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DMEXCO survey Advertising should sell “more sustainably”

What is the current and future role of advertising as seen by the business world and society? Should it “merely” sell, encourage people to consume more sustainably, or even convince them to consume less? Commissioned by DMEXCO, market research company Civey asked more than 5,000 consumers and almost 300 marketers for their opinion in July and August, revealing that both parties are on the same page about the general role of advertising. They believe that it should continue to inform buyers about products and prices, but provide more details about the sustainability of the advertised brands and services in the future.
September 7, 2023

The role that advertising plays in our society and economy has been a hot topic of discussion lately. Is it part of the problem, given that it promotes limitless growth and resource consumption? Or is it part of the solution by encouraging people to consume more sustainably or even cut their consumption? What is the perspective of both consumers and the industry’s experts on the function of advertising today and in the future? Thats’s exactly what market research institute Civey found out in a survey it conducted in July and August 2023 on behalf of DMEXCO among more than 5,000 consumers and 300 marketing and communications professionals.

Traditional functions of advertising still important – on both sides

The results of the DMEXCO survey clearly show that the traditional role of advertising as a sales tool still dominates – in both target groups. A resounding majority of consumers expect advertising to predominantly provide information about new products and services as well as discounts and special offers. Going forward though, consumers also want more information about sustainability (+24 percentage points) and the circular economy (+16 percentage points) as well as more transparency about offers in the market (+17 percentage points).

For the marketing and communications professionals, increasing sales volume naturally continues to be the central aspect of advertising. However, they’re much more skeptical when it comes to sustainability. Only 6 percent of those surveyed think that advertising should promote more sustainable consumption in the future. Two other criteria are much more important to the experts: they especially feel that more emphasis should be placed on strengthening brand image in the future (+17 percentage points), and they expect advertising to play a much greater role in recruiting in light of the shortage of professionals in many industries (+13 percentage points).

What consumers want vs. how marketers think they’ll behave

The lower prioritization by marketers with regard to using advertising to promote sustainable consumption may be due to their lack in confidence in people’s actual buying behavior: 43 percent of the professionals surveyed said that consumer behavior has hardly changed or not changed at all. Only 19 percent of the experts are of the opinion that people generally buy more sustainably than in the past.

When the consumers were asked what they want advertising to offer from a sustainability standpoint, there wasn’t much difference between the various criteria: 54 percent want information about the materials used, 40 percent would like details about the supply chains, and 37 percent want more transparency through information about quality seals. 38 percent want to buy more sustainable products, and 28 percent want advertising to promote a circular economy.

For Prof. Dominik Matyka, Chief Advisor of DMEXCO, the survey proves that “marketers don’t yet quite trust that people want to see more sustainability in advertising. There is clearly still a big gap between the intentions expressed by people in surveys and their actual buying behavior. The survey data collected by Civey also shows that neither consumers nor marketers expect a significant change in the role played by advertising in the economy and society. Advertising should still mainly serve the function of selling, just a little more sustainably in the future. At DMEXCO 2023, examples of more sustainable advertising, known as green or responsible media, will be presented in addition to a whole range of strategies, measures, and tools for making sure that digital advertising in particular continues to sell successfully in the future.”

Dirk Freytag, President of the German Association for the Digital Economy (BVDW), adds: “Even though sales volume and brand awareness are the main focus for companies, consumers expect there to be more information about sustainability and the responsible actions of companies in the future – and rightly so. The image of brands and companies therefore needs to be increasingly at the heart of their communications, even more so because they’re always also targeted at potential employees. However, just talking about sustainability isn’t enough – marketing must also make a tangible contribution. For that reason, the BVDW will be using DMEXCO as an opportunity to present initial guidelines on how to disseminate digital advertising in a resource-friendly way.”

About the survey

To get a clearer picture of the role that advertising plays in terms of sustainability both in society and from the perspective of advertisers, DMEXCO commissioned the market research company Civey to conduct an online survey of almost 300 marketing and communications professionals and just over 5,000 consumers in July and August 2023.

Image material for DMEXCO and graphics relating to the survey are available online at