Why agencies must join forces to achieve sustainability

The world's largest ad agencies have cast aside competition for the better, writes Dentsu Aegis Network's global CSR manager.

Advertising in and of itself is never going to solve world hunger, eradicate disease or prevent widespread climate change.

We don’t have the requisite scientific skills to even begin helping to solve diseases like malaria, or the expertise to tackle political injustice in the world’s poorest communities. I wish we did.

Despite this, it’s clear the advertising industry wants to make the world a better place. Most major agencies today have made important commitments to improve the environment, support charitable causes, and have a positive impact on society.

There is invaluable work being done to increase awareness of ethical practice and it’s not solely contained to CSR departments.

Brands too are increasingly interested in purposeful business; Coca-Cola recently launched a recycling advertising campaign, and Adidas is collaborating with the organisation Parley, to recycle retrieved ocean plastic and turn it into sports performance products.

The younger generation is especially more aware of the need for sustainability from the brands they buy from and the businesses they work for and interact with.

Yet according to our research, only 8% of client briefs currently prioritise sustainability, while over 80% of agency staff desire more sustainable work. There’s momentum for change and we as advertisers should be leading the conversation with clients.

But it’s a fool’s errand to try to take on worldly issues as just one agency or brand.

Despite the best of intentions, it’s easy for individual actions to become disjointed, and although there has been a surge in support for sustainable development in the industry, we’re still largely seeing an absence of collaboration across the board.

The world of advertising is by its very nature an incredibly competitive place, with a steadfast focus on delivering the very best work to clients that grabs consumers’ attention and wins awards.

That being the case, it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that the real way to achieve sustainability for the future is to join forces.

Just over a year ago at Cannes Lions, former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon brought together advertising’s "big six" holding companies to form Common Ground.

The alliance pledged collective support for the Sustainable Development Goals, a collection of 17 goals designed specifically for businesses to contribute towards improving poverty, support sustainable development and ensure peace and prosperity globally.

Common Ground comprises Dentsu, WPP, Havas, Interpublic, Omnicom and Publicis Groupe – plus Wieden & Kennedy which joined in 2017 – all focused on supporting specific areas of the SDGs, and working collaboratively across the board.

By teaming up and donating resources and opening doors to networking events, the alliance is supporting the businesses and charities that are making a marked difference to the world across health, poverty, hunger and sustainability.

One year on, we’re seeing unprecedented collaborative work to support the SDGs.

A great example is the Common Future project, which started in May with media partner Google. All agencies assembled a team of the brightest talent to tackle a brief for the United Nations around engaging Generation Z on the SDGs.

This is the first time ever that all holding companies have come together to work on a single campaign, which launches later in 2017.

Last week, R/GA and Dentsu Aegis Network announced their partnership with global charity Malaria No More. Half the world’s population are at risk from malaria, a disease that still kills a child every two minutes and has a catastrophic economic impact.

This partnership sees the two groups donating 10,000 hours and $5m (£3.9m) media space a year from their own and their partners’ resources. This is again an example of a partnership where agencies are collaborating equally to help tackle some of the biggest issues of our times.

Every group in Common Ground has committed itself to global and local causes to tackle the SDGs. Omnicom announced two global charity partnerships in Cannes, committing to three-year support of Theirworld and Girl Effect.

Also in Cannes, WPP brought together a wide range of clients and agencies to launch Unstereotype to tackle gender bias in advertising.

There is a lot to be learned from the Common Ground alliance. Not only will joining forces positively impact the environment, but we see it as being profit-driving, as more consumers demand it from businesses.

The ad industry as a collective is in a privileged position to inspire and build significant public support for the charities and businesses that are making a measurable impact.

Our employees are creative and our campaigns create powerful messages with global reach, so we’re able to reach everyone with vital information about the issues facing our world.

The more we join forces, the more likely we are to achieve the most impactful results. We call on everyone in the advertising industry to join the Common Ground alliance to help us tackle these issues.

Lars Holm is global CSR manager at Dentsu Aegis Network

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