Sustainable advertising – smart and efficient

Is sustainable advertising possible? We explore what constitutes responsible media planning and how it works.

Sustainable advertising can be achieved by selecting the right media and messages.
Image: © Anastasiia / Adobe Stock

Why is sustainability in marketing important?

The willingness to take responsibility also matters in media planning – whether digital or analog. Both on a social level – for example by not advertising unhealthy food – and in terms of environmental sustainability – such as by using recyclable out-of-home advertising – advertisers can demonstrate a responsible approach by planning their media appropriately. After all, successful companies are those that live up to their responsibilities, communicate that externally, put sustainability at the heart of their actions, and pursue goals that their customers can identify with.

How can advertising and sustainability be aligned?

When choosing suitable media channels for your company or business clients, the benefits that they offer will obviously be a consideration: media will stand the test of time if it is digital, can be used flexibly, and distributes content that reflects the lives of users as closely as possible. However, people are increasingly wanting more: they’re no longer just demanding content that showcases products or services promising to meet their individual needs, but are instead looking for media that is available at the right time to inform, entertain, and offer them added value. Advertisers can fulfill this demand by creating a media plan that successfully reaches users in an increasingly digitalized world and provides them with content that merges informative and educational value with buying incentives.

In our post-Covid world, though, out-of-home advertising is just as important as digital media. People are leaving their house more, going out, and traveling. For that reason, OOH measures definitely shouldn’t be neglected in the context of sustainability marketing.

One global player that immediately jumped at this opportunity was the fast food giant McDonald’s with its “Better M” campaign. In an attempt to counter criticism of the mountains of plastic waste that the corporation produces, it launched an advertising project involving unusual out-of-home advertisements installed on the walls of two apartment buildings in Berlin and Cologne. Lenticular murals made of recycled wood were used for the visuals, which gave onlookers the impression of a moving scene.

In addition to this green media initiative, McDonald’s is also implementing other measures as part of a comprehensive sustainability campaign: from using green electricity in its restaurants and plastic-free packaging for unprocessed food items to committing to the goal of ensuring that all of its sales packaging worldwide is made of recycled, renewable, or certified materials by 2025 without exception.

Strategies for sustainable advertising

So, sustainable advertising is indeed possible. If you’re a marketer wanting to contribute more to environmental sustainability by making your media planning more sustainable, you generally have two strategic options: transformation or offsetting. In other words, companies can achieve eco-friendly marketing by changing how they act, i.e. acting in an eco-friendlier way. Or they can make campaigns carbon-neutral by means of offsetting projects.

However, the sustainability idea covers more than just environmental aspects: a company’s media planning should also make sense on a social and economic level. As a marketer employed at a company or agency, you can develop tailored concepts for achieving corporate goals as sustainably as possible with these factors in mind.

Here’s an example: For companies with a focus on “green” media planning, this concept will give them a reliable idea of what media can be used to execute projects and achieve corporate goals in the most sustainable way possible. To that end, KPIs such as the cost per GRP (gross rating point), which indicates the cost effectiveness of media, are weighed against the degree of sustainability. The company itself then decides on the extent of its commitment and attitude toward sustainability and makes a choice on that basis.

In terms of the social element, sustainable marketing is about distributing information responsibly. As a marketer, you should be aware of the impact of advertising content on other content and on society. The aim of marketing is obviously to produce messages that generate as much attention as possible and thus a high number of sales, but where does dramatic, polarizing clickbait content lead? Sustainable advertising should strive to protect society by taking a responsible approach to content.

What does sustainable advertising have to do with AI?

Many marketing processes at agencies are now already automated. Artificial intelligence may even be considered to achieve even more sustainability in-house, including AI-driven tools that pre-assess the emotional impact of advertising campaigns on the target group and thus facilitate the production of more suitable content with a lasting impact. Such technologies also give companies a sense of orientation: by distributing the right messages – ideally ones that combine content and commerce – via the right channels, they can safely guide users and consumers through the jungle of advertising content in a sustainable way. And that’s a task that should be regarded as an important responsibility in marketing.