Duncan Meisel
Jun 24, 2024

Adland's wilful ignorance of the climate emergency cannot last

Agencies and platforms held sessions about the future at Cannes, all while their work producing ads for the world’s biggest polluters is making that future hotter, more dangerous, and more expensive, says Duncan Meisel of Clean Creatives.

Duncan Meisel presents at Cannes Lions 2024. Photo: Clean Creatives
Duncan Meisel presents at Cannes Lions 2024. Photo: Clean Creatives
One of the biggest attractions at the Cannes Lions 2024 festival was the TikTok Garden, which drew daily lines that stretched through the inner courtyard of the Carlton Hotel as participants tried to get a taste of the platform’s new tools and top creators. But for anyone who made it inside, there was an unpleasant surprise: the venue was a poorly ventilated temporary structure topped with a clear plastic tarp, making it a literal greenhouse in the South France sun.
This experience neatly sums up the experience of many leading marketers in Cannes with regards to climate change. Attracted by shiny new objects, too many in the ad industry are walking unaware right into a greenhouse future that is much warmer, and much less fun than they hoped. Up and down the Croisette, agencies and platforms held sessions about the future, all while their work producing advertisements for the world’s biggest polluters is making that future hotter, more dangerous, and more expensive.
Climate change is already a defining feature of daily life for billions of people across the planet in 2024. Over 1.2 billion people have already been affected by a major weather disaster caused by climate change, and for the rest of the world hotter days, more frequent storms, and more expensive food makes up a background hum of anxiety that shapes everyday life.
That anxiety may partially explain the stunning growth of clean energy across the globe. Year after year, solar and wind power installations blow predictions out of the water. The world sold more electric cars in the first quarter of 2024 than in all of 2020. Young people in particular support climate action at the workplace and at the ballot box in history-defining numbers. Just  two weeks before the Lions began, the UN Secretary General forcefully told the industry to drop fossil-fuel clients.
The Cannes Lions 2024 did have climate and sustainability bright spots. Inside the main festival, The UNDP and Weather Channel shared the results of their groundbreaking Weather Kids campaign, creators with a genuine focus on the issue like Khalil Greene and Rob Mayhew shared insights, and the Debussy Theater was packed for a discussion of fashion re-use and repair led by Patagonia. Outside the Palais, events led by groups like Clean Creatives, Conscious Advertising Network and ACT Responsible provided opportunities to discuss the future of creativity and the climate emergency.
But the ongoing connections to fossil-fuel clients continues to blind certain leaders in the ad industry to the defining issue of climate change. It’s hard not to imagine that if billions of people were suddenly adopting a new social media format rather than clean energy, or experiencing a rapid change in their ability to purchase alcohol, rather than food essentials or housing, these trends would be seen as a priority by the world’s biggest marketing companies at Cannes.
Advertising holding companies and major independents all retain a list of fossil fuel clients that have staked everything on trying to stop the clean energy transition. For those agencies at Cannes, climate change was simply blacked out on their agendas. There is a good reason that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called creatives working for polluters the “Mad Men fuelling the madness” of the climate emergency.
Despite professing to focus on the future of creativity, certain ad and PR industry leadership seems to prefer the comfort of retaining the contracts of polluters, and ignoring the disruptive effects of the climate emergency. But that wilful ignorance of economic and planetary reality cannot last. Thanks to the work of thousands of professionals across the world who are advocating for the creative industry to cut ties with fossil fuels, every Cannes Lions from this point forward will acquire an ever-bigger focus on the climate emergency. 

Duncan Meisel is executive director at Clean Creatives
Campaign Asia

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