Changing the visual may answer one of our major communication failures

As I crossed the city this morning, I passed numerous adverts with imagery of women carrying disposable coffee cups and people sitting in restaurants with plates piled high with food. It occurred to me that despite David Attenborough issuing the marketing world a communication challenge to help change the narrative, we are never going to accelerate the shift over to a more sustainable lifestyle if we consistently use visuals that portray unsustainable lifestyles.

The challenge

We’ve got to get the Western World, who contribute to the majority of the world’s carbon emissions, to change the way they live in less than a decade, otherwise we may end up with a world where our children and grandchildren will never get the chance to swim with manta rays and turtles on the Great Barrier Reef or come eye to eye with an elephant because these creatures will be all but a living memory!

The challenge is to make sustainable living not only ‘cool’ but desirable and easily attainable for everyone. Ultimately we need to get people to a place where they don’t question whether they should be doing it but rather why wouldn’t they be doing it.

The solution

Now if the average American is exposed to 1500 adverts a day and the average British member is expected to spend 10 years of their life watching TV, surely the first place to start driving this change is the visuals that we use in these highly influential mediums. 

What could this look like? Well it could include people walking around with reusable bags, electric cars driving past, solar panels on roofs, diversity of cultures living in the same streets, people drinking from reusable mugs, housing estates full of greenery rather than tarmac and recycling bins sitting prominently in kitchens. You are probably starting to get the picture.

What’s already being done?

The Environmental Media Association have been doing wonders already in this area over the past couple of decades, working with film directors on how to incorporate more environmentally focused messaging from the cast of Friends pouring out milk from a reusable glass bottle to Detective Briscoe from Law and Order asking his lieutenant at a crime scene what the blue fleece found was made of and her replying ‘recycled plastic bottles’. 

Taking the plunge

It’s time for marketing to start getting its game together. This is not about taking away the creative flair of marketing or telling marketers how they should be doing their job but I do believe that they should be held responsible for the wider good. Is there a way we can depict sustainable lifestyles regardless of the product or service being promoted?

Imagine the impact this could have if every marketer started adopting this sustainable marketing approach. The exposure to sustainable living would be through the roof. It would not only help everyone visualise what a sustainable life would like, it would start to change people’s views on what a desirable life looks like…and all with no mention of saving the planet…because as we know that is clearly not working right now. 

If nothing is done then the regulators may end up being the ones that push the change. Do we really want to wait for our creative freedom to be restrained? I’d say no. So come on marketers, what are you waiting for?