Sustainability and advertising: Friends, foes or eternal ‘frenemies’?

By our News Team | 2022

With consumers increasingly expecting advertisers to push for enhanced sustainability, it’s clear the two forces must find common ground.

How can advertising and sustainability work together to support a more sustainable future and responsible brand growth? This is a question that research company Ipsos has explored in a new paper.

“At first, there can be a cognitive dissonance when associating advertising and sustainability. Don’t they have irreconcilable objectives? Advertising’s purpose is to sell more, while sustainability aims at ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’, Ipsos observes in a blog post.


Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

To answer this question of how sustainability and advertising can work together, the company evaluated 200 ads from its global database that included some sustainability messaging and asked what works and what doesn’t work? How can brands find a sustainability message they can own?

Five key takeaways for brands

The research team identified five key takeaways it believes can help brands successfully change people’s behaviour and create a more sustainable future, while also helping to grow their sales and market share. These are:

  1. The sea of sameness Simply adding a sustainability claim to your ads does not make them work better for your brand; ads must be executed in the right way in order to stand out.
  2. It is all about balance
    Ads that blend brand and sustainability messages perform much better; do not forget to include brand-benefit messages in your ads.
  3. Make it easy
    Ads that offer a solution, pulling the consumer into a sustainable behaviour by making it easy for them, are the most effective.
  4. Face the issues
    Ads that start with the problem of sustainability head-on, outperform other ads in terms of effectiveness.
  5. Walk the talk
    Make sure that the claims in your ads are credible and that you are following through on them. Not doing so exposes you to the risk of being accused of greenwashing and facing a media backlash.

You can download the full Sustainability and Advertising paper here.