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How advertising can address the climate crisis: The Greenprint, by ITV/System1

How advertising can address the climate crisis: The Greenprint, by ITV/System1

Posted on: March 27, 2024

Advertising is part of the solution to the climate crisis, and last year ITV and System1 – the creative effectiveness platform that harnesses the power of emotion to drive growth for the world's leading brands – released a ground-breaking report offering actionable guidance on how to create more effective sustainable advertising.

The Greenprint drew on System1’s effectiveness data and behavioural science principles to uncover how creativity can be effectively employed to help tackle the climate crisis. It analyzed 1,000 randomly selected ads from the last three years to assess whether they contained environmental messages and, if so, how these were being communicated.

Below are some of its key findings and recommendations…

Only 8% of TV adverts included an environmental message

This is despite more than 80% of UK adults having some concern about climate change and advertising – TV in particular – having huge power to drive awareness of environmental issues.

Climate-related creative is average

Across System1’s ad testing metrics, adverts with an environmental message performed in line with the UK average. Being environmentally conscious is neither a shortcut to creative effectiveness nor a turn-off for viewers, and there is plenty of potential for brands to make green ads more effective and engaging.

Focus is currently in the wrong place

The most heavily featured environmental message across the analysed ads was waste reduction, appearing in nearly a quarter (22%) of the ads. However, waste reduction ranks only 60th in importance for reducing carbon emissions – meaning UK advertising is currently overlooking the green behaviours with the most impact.

“Green Hints”

By analysing examples of best-in-class environmental advertising identified using System1’s Star Rating, a metric predicting long-term potential, The Greenprint also offers a set of best-practice themes designed to facilitate more engaging and effective sustainable advertising. They are:

Hope Over Fear:Happiness and surprise are the most effective advertising emotions. Environmental advertising that elicits feelings of optimism and hope, rather than fear, will therefore more effectively drive behaviour change.

Suggest It, Don’t Shout It: The best way to make an appealing environmental ad is to concentrate on making an appealing ad first and foremost. Green behaviours which are aligned with something the audience cares about, rather than positioned as “duties”, will be adopted more easily.

Stories Over Stats: Focusing on real people or recognisable characters makes the topic of the environment less anonymous and makes green behaviours feel more achievable. One particularly useful tactic is to employ Fluent Devices – brand characters which recur across ads and build familiarity as well as positive emotion.

Meet Them 90% of the Way: Providing consumers with alternative solutions that are convenient, cost-effective, and still better for the environment lets sustainability feel more accessible. It taps into one of the most important and effective tenets of behaviour change: make the change as easy as possible.

Use the Right Messenger: Messages land more effectively depending on who they come from, and different kinds of messengers will have different impacts. Choosing the right messenger is important, but so is ensuring they deliver the message in an effective way.

Triggers for change: While motivation is the necessary foundation for change, to actually make it happen you need triggers. For brands, wider cultural context is often the best place to look for triggers, and brands can leverage them to their advantage – be it the COP summit, the New Year or a personal fresh-start moment.

You can read the report in full here.

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