Sustainability Talk #10
with Jan Pechmann - Founder Marketing for Future
The communications strategist and Marketing for Future founder on sustainability blah blah, smart rewards and the magic of marketing.
After Fridays for Future, Architects for Future and Psychologists for Future, you founded Marketing for Future about three years ago. Does every industry really need its own sustainability initiative?
Ours certainly should have one, because marketing and communication could become the decisive driver of sustainable change. With what we communicators have learned, we have a powerful force at our disposal: we can make people see things they didn't know before. Good marketing is like magic, the question is: do we use black magic or white magic?
Which magic trick should marketeers know?
If the future could brief us, it would ask us to influence entrenched behavior patterns in the areas of nutrition, mobility and consumption. It would ask us to make rationality sexy and sacrifice cool.
Was that the specific reason for you to found Marketing for Future?
I had a nagging feeling that I wasn't making the most of what I was good at as a strategist. After I shared this unease at an in-house conference in a kind of soul striptease, I was contacted by dozens of colleagues from agencies and marketing departments who felt the same way. None of them wanted to blow up the system or leave their job, but all of them wanted to do something more meaningful than preparing the 10th brand relaunch.
However, it cannot be said that there is not enough communication about and around sustainability at the moment.
And that is part of the problem.
"Sustainability communication is often fun-free pointing fingers."
But instead of pointing the finger at consumers, we should work to make commonsense an attractive alternative. We have to overcome the mind-behaviour gap, especially among the "rest" of the population, who do not want to hear the messages of Fridays for Future. People who, from their point of view, are being deprived of their sausage and their annual holiday in Turkey.
How could this silent majority be inspired?
We observe various mechanics that seem to work quite well and which, when seen in the light, are not so new.
Can you give us an example of what that might look like?
Clearly the answer to the question "What's in it for me? " Sustainable behaviour must not only pay off on the karma account, but also in other profitable ways for consumers. For example, you can tell commuters a thousand times how much more climate-friendly it would be to cycle to work instead of driving. Or you can develop an app, as the agency Scholz & Volkmer did for Deutsche Bahn: "DB Rad Plus" is a kind of challenge in which you are rewarded for cycling kilometres, for example in the form of a free cappuccino at the bakery along your way to work. This approach can now be applied to other sectors and products at will, because energy-conscious behaviour actually saves money, plant-based nutrition is healthier than the old meat diet, and so on. These are all drivers that score much more accurately than the moral club.
You awarded the DB Rad Plus app the Marketing for Future Award this year. Was there really a need for another creative award?
We are much more than a creative award, because being creative alone is not enough. We look for best practice solutions that are creative, credible and effective. That's why we have three independent juries reviewing the submissions for their creativity, credibility and commercial value. And instead of the usual confetti and prosecco gala evening, we award the prizes at the Marketing for Future Camp, where we discuss the submissions and approaches with all participants. All entrants who make it onto the shortlist receive a handwritten explanation of our decision. After all, the point is to learn from each other, to improve together and to show alternatives to greenwashing.
Where exactly does legitimate sustainability communication end - and where does greenwashing begin?
That is indeed the ultimate question. I see greenwashing, for example, in all these bogus solutions that elevate a side issue to the main battleground and then celebrate themselves for it. For example, when a soft drink brand upgrades the screw caps of its disposable plastic bottles with 35% of hay or whatever, instead of focusing on alternatives to disposable plastic. Another example are the inflationary "climate neutral" badges on products, which of course are not climate neutral, but at best climate neutralised.
I would argue that in 8 out of 10 cases, this kind of greenwashing is not the result of a lack of morals, but of a lack of knowledge. We have an extreme competence problem in our industry when it comes to sustainability.
Why is that?
As agencies and marketing people, we are simply not knowledgeable enough about the complex topic of sustainability.
"Marketing for Future needs a different level of competence than Marketing for Status Quo."
Marketers have to acquire this knowledge now out of their own interest, because sooner or later the Net Zero representative will knock on their door and ask for their contribution to the decarbonisation of the company.
Where can creatives acquire the necessary sustainability skills?
At the beginning of 2023, we will transfer the activities of Marketing for Future into a Purpose-GmbH and thus become faster, better and more professional than an association with volunteers could ever be. It will be called BAM!, which stands for Bock Auf Morgen. Under its umbrella, we will establish an academy that will provide art directors and other creatives with concrete sustainability knowledge delivered to their doorsteps. Is that the perfect solution? No. But if you wait for a 100% approach, you'll get old and grey. 80 is the new 100.