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IAA TALKS: Sustainability

Wednesday 2nd November saw us launch the first in our new series of IAA Talks – the revamped version of the IAA Business Lunches, held at the Royal Society of the Arts. The RSA is a charitable organisation in London that consists of a global community of proactive problem solvers, uniting people and ideas to resolve the challenges of our time. It holds an ethos of discussion and debate which perfectly mirrors the objective of IAA Talks and that of our inspired Thought Leadership Committee, valiantly led by Will Nicholson and Laura Morris who brought this series into being. Namely, to encourage open conversation and, in doing so, progress thought and understanding. So what better place to bring together some of Media’s brightest minds for discussion and debate on the ever-critical subject of Sustainability.

A buzzy networking lunch in the Benjamin Franklin room (the United States founding father was an early RSA member) kicked off proceedings and then guests ascended the suitably romantic staircase to the Great Room, where a vast, 360 degree series of paintings titled ‘The Progress of Human Knowledge and Culture’ set the scene for our series of ‘Spotlights’ about the climate crisis humanity faces – and what we – and the brands we work for and work with, can do to effect change.

Prior to the event there was some healthy consternation in the inner sanctums of the IAA about whether people would be able to shake off their British self-consciousness and enter into animated PUBLIC discussion. Perhaps it was the cosy lighting, the lunch-time wine or indeed the gentle conviviality of ‘Mr Goodvertising’ himself, Thomas Kolster who helped create an easy environment for ideas and opinions to be shared. Interestingly the Great Room was home to one of Sir Alexander Graham Bell’s first demonstrations of the telephone – a room with a history of encouraging communication across barriers.

First up was Sukhi Sindhu, co-founder of challenger drinks brand Nobl Thirst, (sporting a perfectly pitched ‘Make Shift Happen’ top) who humbly explained how his company’s first attempts at branding their cartons fell short, the insight being that they have found people more persuaded by brand aesthetic than brand purpose. A vibrant redesign saw NoblThirst’s sales soar and while they are focussed on ensuring a sustainable supply chain and packaging – they don’t ‘overwhelm’ consumers on how they achieve this. The takeaway being that as a brand, you don’t have to talk about everything you are doing within the Sustainability space, in fact, perhaps you shouldn’t. Consider a ‘Silent, Whisper, Shout’ approach to your endeavours.

When Thomas threw questions to the audience one challenge that emerged from the audience was in the face of the current cost of living crisis there is going to be a huge focus for consumers on value; so is it possible for brands to be sustainable and compete on price?

In Spotlight 2 Volvo’s Consumer Insights Lead, Thomas Sandor Nagy proved that Sustainability advertising doesn’t have to be boring, showing two super-engaging pieces of content where Volvo explicitly admit that they have contributed to the climate crisis. Samira Brophy used Ipsos data to illustrate that when brands are honest about their failings they are rewarded with consumers’ attention.
The Ultimate Safety Test
Volvo Moment – Sustainability

We learnt that if you are doing something sustainability focused you want to share, make sure the emphasis is on what YOU are doing to fight the climate crisis (and how it helps), rather than what consumers should do to fight it. Brands have to walk the walk, before they talk the talk.
According to Ipsos, to stand out in the ‘sea of sameness’ you need….a strong foundation of action so you can be true to the facts empathy and honesty to be true to the people and a healthy dose of creativity to be true to the brand.

In a neat metaphor (which let’s be honest – felt quite personal), Thomas drew comparisons between a cheating girlfriend promising future fidelity and a brand promoting their Net Zero ambitions for 2050 – it feels too far away to be convincing.

Then a sobering moment when Thomas asked the room on whether it will be governments, brands or people who lead change; it became clear that this was a room who overwhelmingly believed in the power of people – and felt palpable disenchantment with the government.

Spotlight 3 saw Rob Alexander from Headland Consultancy and Gemma Hitchens, Content Partnerships Director, FT introduce one of the largest renewable energy companies in the world, Iberdrola and the commendable work they have been doing for over 20 years. Gemma shared a universal truth which spoke to all on a personal and professional level – “Content marketing is like a first date, if you just talk about yourself you won’t get a second’.
Iberdrola, rather than droning on and on about how much money they give to charity (0.001% of earnings), how they bike to work (like, 7 miles, once a week) and how much they always try and buy second hand, have led from the front. They use 3rd party voices – journalists and specialists, to tell interesting long-form stories that will entertain, educate and help upskill their viewers – and ultimately, inform better policies.

For our final Spotlight we turned to a sector which is under increasing scrutiny, hospitality, and LUXURY hospitality at that – you’ll be looking to part with upwards of £100k for a week in one of their wildly exclusive villas. Michala Chatel, Managing Partner, Ultima Collection explained that although they don’t force a sustainability message down their client’s throats – (more of the ‘whisper’ approach we heard about earlier) – they make small sustainable actions everyday which have a not insignificant cumulative effect – using local suppliers, biodegradable packaging, turning off heated pools if the property is vacant and educating their guests in a subtle way which makes them feel good about themselves. For every guest that stays in one of their properties Ultima plant one tree per day and remove a kilo of plastic from the ocean per day. When guests discover this, Michala tells us that they tend to ‘top up’ this sustainability gesture and ‘add a few 000s’.

And what for the future of the luxury sector in walking this sustainability walk? Michala held up Patek Philippe who have been extolling the importance of lend culture for over 25 years with their slogan ‘You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation’ – an exquisitely classy strapline which is as much about quality as it is sustainability. With 1 out of 3 people preferring to buy second hand because they want to buy into a sense of product legacy – future focus in the luxury sector must be on ensuring longevity through craftsmanship, through the use of quality materials and through encouraging moderation. Thomas neatly summarised this in his wrap up – be in balance, don’t take too much, make conscious choices.

Of course a big thanks to the Thought Leadership committee, our sponsors Criteo, the FT and National Geographic.

The IAA TALKS series is organised by the IAA UK Thought Leadership Committee, consisting of professional volunteers from across the international advertising industry in the UK. They are committed to providing inspiring content and a platform for learning, for the good of the industry. The group is chaired by Will Nicholson, TVN and Laura Morris, BBC Studios. Please refer to our ‘Committee’ page to see all members.

The painting by James Barry in the Great Room took some 23 years to complete; it is a masterpiece of endurance as well as skill. Looking up at this epic art work in all its multi-layered complexity, (and jumping rather crudely on the metaphor bandwagon), I started comparing Barry’s personal feat of completing this canvas to the task ahead for humanity in solving the climate crisis . When Barry embarked on this vast picture he must have felt overwhelmed by the task ahead but inspiringly he persevered for over two decades, spurred on by an enduring faith in the end goal. Just as the solution to the climate crisis feels so terrifyingly unreachable, we must not, cannot, lose heart, but instead keep focussing on what actions we as individuals can do, brushstroke by pain-staking brushstroke, to paint a brighter future for our planet.
So to finish with the words of the big man Kolster: Go forward together stronger.

Additional resources if you want to explore this subject further:

An article on sustainability advertising based on the ad testing database

This section of the Ipsos website hosts a variety of resources on sustainability and how to explore & orientate, identify & focus opportunities, execute strategy, communicate effectively and monitor & evaluate

FT Energy Source, supported by Iberdrola. Find more information about partnering with the FT here.

Discover National Geographic Brand Stories here

A humorous exploration of corporate carbon offsetting, John Oliver explains what carbon offsets are, what they claim to do, how they might be making climate change even worse.

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