Climate activism has forced the ad industry to debate its purpose

Adland must address its role in perpetuating disastrous consumerism.

Who’d start an ad agency today?" Dave Dye asks this month. "Fees have been slashed, projects are replacing retainers and anyone with a laptop is eating their lunch."

Dye – who has just launched another agency himself – sets out his bleak tableau before concluding with an optimistic vision of an agency that marries the wisdom of experience with the passion and hunger of the industry’s fresh talent.

But I don’t think it’s the more-for-less, short-term, cost-over-quality trope that is most likely to deter future Peter Meads, Charles Vallances or Helen Calcrafts from launching the ad agencies of the next decade. It’s advertising’s role in perpetuating disastrous consumerism that is more likely to turn off the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Climate activism has forced the ad industry to debate its purpose, how agencies operate and which brands agencies should work with. 

"The cumulative effect of all those [advertising] campaigns," Dylan Williams says, "has been to encourage a consumer culture that’s so voracious and so irrational that we are now mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren, because we created a society that makes decisions based on want versus need, and on emotional whim and fancy, rather than due deliberation."

Many of us are only now beginning to truly address how best to deploy the strategic and creative talent in the industry not just to make a positive contribution to the climate crisis but also to stop making a negative one.

As Iris’ Ben Essen asks: "How do you get from year 159 of advertising being in service to the industrial age to year one of advertising being in service to the regenerative age?"

How to do that will be perhaps the most important issue agencies will have to face as we enter the next decade. And the answer to "Who’d start an ad agency today?" must be: "The people focused on serving the regenerative age." 

If they can effectively fulfil that service with creativity, flair and fun, then the ad industry has a positive future.

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