Marketing for Humanity: An Advertising Campaign to Save the World

Imagine that you’re designing a large advertising campaign, only this particular project is the most important branding, marketing, media and communications initiative in the history of humankind. How would you go about coordinating a multinational effort to achieve this one critical outcome?

Shift opinion and behaviors — of more than 7 billion people globally — to take an action to avert an average increase in temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius, thereby preventing the most catastrophic and long-term effects of climate change. (These changes include massive flooding, severe drought and runaway ocean warming that fuels tropical storms and drives mass die-offs of marine species.1)

Satellite image of iceberg A-74 calving from the Brunt ice shelf, Antarctica on 2 March 2021. The iceberg measures approximately 1,270 square kilometres (789 miles) in size. Credit: Science Photo Library.

Project Background
1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7˚ Fahrenheit) of warming above pre-industrial levels, on average, has been a universally acceptable milestone to avoid, if we are to limit the severe risks and impacts of climate change. To save the planet, essentially, we’re seeking to keep temperatures well below 2.0 Celsius (3.6 ˚ Fahrenheit). The trouble is that most recently, a new report from the World Meteorological Association, an agency of the United Nations, finds that global temperatures are accelerating toward 1.5 degrees Celsius.2 The new “State of the Global Climate” report issued April 20, 2021, predicts there is a 44% chance that the average annual temperature on Earth will temporarily hit 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming at some point in the next five years. According to the WMO’s report, that likelihood has doubled since last year.

What are the solutions? We’ve taken this subject on mostly through government policy, industry-specific regulations and international cooperation of 197 countries in the Paris Agreement. It makes sense that we can legislate to impose top-down measures to achieve the greatest atmospheric reduction of carbon dioxide and mitigate temperature increases.

There are plenty of environmental organizations working to engage, educate and inform, and inspire the public into action. But many nonprofits function with independent missions and are only loosely affiliated, at times, through peer partnerships. This fractured approach is not going to achieve the desired outcome.

Marketing to Save the Earth
The truth remains that we have not yet managed to see this the right way. That is, we’ve never dreamt or envisioned what could take place through marketing properly to achieve behavioral changes among whole populations. We have not imagined the breadth and depth of a multiyear strategy and campaign so large and powerful that it unites and galvanizes entire populations into action. If a teenage Swedish activist like Greta Thunberg can take to the world stage to accomplish all that she has in awareness, we can pool our enviable international resources to take on the audacious goal of educating and influencing people to change.

The leading advertisers, media companies, NGOs, nonprofit organizations, creative and government agencies will have to be recruited to think and plan far outside any conventions. Let’s awaken that sleeping giant, the collective conscience of the world — first to see that the gravest danger to humanity is upon us — and then to do important, substantial and meaningful work together. The biggest problems require the biggest, most coordinated solutions. I’m speaking of a centralized, massively budgeted plan that begins with a rethink and rebrand of the image problem that is climate change. Once applied, the multinational matrix of campaign initiatives would scale audiences internationally at an unprecedented rate, and market and communicate for multilingual, multichannel, sustained global deployments.

One film activation of this was Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” That was perhaps the closest thing to a public education campaign — but this campaign will be far more influential and broader than one documentary film. Contemporary marketing does more than just hock merchandise through the cynical stereotypes of clever creatives, or find us ubiquitously through algorithmic advertising. Business, marketing and media can also do good.

Think of the power of the top 1,000 companies in the US truly buying in and giving their support to this program. Envision the potential of engaging their workforces to disseminate the campaign’s overarching message, living the values and taking constructive action. Consider such an ambitious consumer marketing program delivering the highest level of impact that marketing can deliver, expanding it abroad and phasing it over 3–5 years.

Campaign Structure
But where does one begin? I’d suggest starting through a phase of diligence to identify the leading agencies worldwide, by discipline, to work in partnership. Upon securing commitments, these elite strategic and tactical firms will confer with governments and convene monthly to report progress and plan strategically. This is likely to entail the world’s largest advertising consortium in history, comprised of 40 or more agencies in research and strategy, brand image development, marketing and advertising, and technology, with a group of leading communications companies handling press efforts. All of this would be supplemented by representatives from the leading, trusted nonprofit organizations and academic institutions that can inform and guide the public education component.

It’s clearly B2C and there’s a large B2B component, and a B2B2C. What’s that overarching value proposition, supported by key messaging? The idea itself is enormous, but we know the most powerful campaigns are exceedingly simple. What’s the “go-to-market” media plan?

There would probably be an agreed world day of common action. Let’s also “eventize” this initiative. Remember Live Aid in the 1980’s, before music-for-relief concerts were so popular? We will need talent — big talent. And we will need all of the giants worldwide in social media — Facebook and Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn and others — to donate billions of dollars in media. We will need television. Lots of television, livestreaming and radio. Media for mobile and desktop, email, and texting campaigns. Imagine bus shelters, taxi cabs, outdoor, and many integrations combining a head-spinning matrix of cross-pollinations.

Perhaps most importantly, the campaign would need to draw citizens into the conversation. There’s going to be a traditional, “one-to-many” push component, but this needs to inspire action from the ground up. So, we will also need “many-to-many” platforms in order to give everyone a voice. And we’ll need a central brand identity and themes, overarching statement and goals, but the tools and templates and messages will all need to be incredibly flexible, so much so that they can be used far and near, from Sidney, Tokyo, Istanbul, and Nairobi to Rome, London, São Paulo, New York and Los Angeles. And it must be pliable enough to appeal to small towns and cities. This is going to be built to mobilize billions of people, after all, so we should test launch in small communities and — lo and behold — might we just begin there? From many small, passionate embers, could a global movement grow?

Funding the Campaign
One third of the media could be funded by governments participating in the Paris Agreement, with responsibility for donations allocated according to their contribution to carbon emissions. Another third could be funded by philanthropists, private foundations and NGOs, and another third through media donated by the largest corporations like Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook.

Last year, global ad spending on CPG (consumer packaged goods) — for digital and television only — amounted to $22.7 billion.3 That report, by Zenith, a Publicis Groupe agency, included Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S. If we can muster $20 billion annually to promote soap and other consumer products, we can surely manage the same attention and investment to prevent unimaginable destruction and an unthinkable loss of life.

How would you begin? The idea is to realize maximum impact toward achieving the goal, per budget dollar, and per waking minute of time. Because the clock is ticking, and we will need everyone on board, believing in this crusade, in order to prevail.

1. NPR — https://www.npr.org/2021/05/26/1000465487/earth-is-barreling-toward-1-5-degrees-celsius-of-warming-scientists-warn

2. World Meteorological Association — https://public.wmo.int/en/our-mandate/climate/wmo-statement-state-of-global-climate

3. AdWeek — https://www.adweek.com/commerce/cpg-digital-ad-spend-to-increase-7-per-year-until-2023/

Dwayne Flinchum, President of ScientificBrands, has led the strategy for brand, marketing and communications engagements on behalf of renowned organizations.