Driving The Debate On Climate-Killing ADS

Cigarette companies advertised their products for decades even though it was widely known that smoking kills. Eventually, enough pressure was mounted to get cigarette ads banned. Could Greenpeace France do the same for companies hawking climate-killing goods and services?

Tags: Social Norms, Climate Crisis, Dynamic Normative Messaging | Country: France

The challenge

Reaching zero net carbon emissions in the EU by 2040 will require significant and urgent cuts; efforts to motivate the public to help in realizing those cuts are being openly undermined by the social impacts of advertising. Climate—killing industries are encouraging people to fly to exotic countries, buy new cars and keep over consuming.

The aims

Provoke a debate about how certain advertisements play a major role in driving activities that fuel the climate crisis

Push the issue into the mainstream and into the political discourse so ads for climate-killing products and services become taboo and are eventually banned

The Solution

Mindworks’ insights

Key Mindset Factors: Social Norms

Advertisements don’t just reflect social and cultural norms and values, they create them. These norms and values make it difficult for people to reduce their carbon-intensive lifestyles. For example, they encourage extrinsic values – the pursuit of power, wealth, and material goods.

The pervasive and manipulative nature of advertising triggers emotional rather than rational responses. It leads people to unconsciously believe these behaviours are endorsed as acceptable social norms in society. Over consumption becomes desirable, something that will bring happiness and success.

This is harmful in three ways: valuing perpetual consumption hurts Well-being, it damages the environment and drives the climate crisis; and weakens our connections to others and nature — or intrinsic values.

Banning climate-killing advertising is a relatively new idea. The strategy was to both target the advertiser (making promoting their product taboo) and to push for regulatory control. In June 2020, Greenpeace France co-authored an evidence-based report with two partner NGOs, that called for strict laws regulating advertising by the automotive, aviation, shipping, and fossil fuel industries. Mindworks’ research on advertising’s societal impacts on our values and Well-being was used to frame the societal dimension of the report.

Several months after the report was published, Greenpeace France joined other NGOs, scientists and directors of advertising agencies in signing a joint Op-ed in Le Monde calling for urgent regulation of ads on environmental and health grounds.

A 2020 Greenpeace France-commission poll showed that 65% of respondents would support a ban on fossil fuel advertisements.

A 2020 Greenpeace France-commission poll showed that 65% of respondents would support a ban on fossil fuel advertisements.

The impact

Alongside the longer-term goal of shifting norms in society, the report contributed to a parliamentary regulative proposal in January 2021 that was debated in the National Assembly, further amplifying the social and political debate.

The future

Inspired by the work by Greenpeace France and its allies, calls for a total ban on European fossil fuel sponsorships and advertising was planned to be included as a central part of Greenpeace’s European campaign plans in order to “radically shift societal opinion of fossil fuels and the enabling industries that allow fossil fuels to thrive.”