Creating a desirable and liveable future will mean changing our models of consumption

Helen brain

We “have to persuade people not of the reality of the climate crisis – that’s done – but of what the solutions are, and of how we can fairly share responsibility for them.” Emmanuel Rivière, Director of International Polling at Kantar Public.

To create a desirable and more importantly, liveable future; we, the people within the ad industry, need to use our powers to change consumption models to be consistent with a net zero future.

Doing that means we need to change:

1. WHAT people consume.

2. HOW people consume.

3. What people do AFTER consumption.

4. WHY people consume.

We can already see brands doing work in each of these spaces, so we know that these changes are possible, the job now is to scale them, to make them mainstream, and to continuously optimise them to remove carbon from the equation.

When it comes to changing what people consume, we only need to look at the growth in plant-based foods, the legislative push to EV vehicles over petrol and diesel, or the amazing growth in the pre-loved fashion market.

The sharing economy has shown us that people are incredibly open to changing how they engage with products and services, if the value equation is clear - just look at Airbnb, Olio, Hurr or Loop.

And we’re seeing increased innovation in the ‘after-consumption’ market – with the right to repair movement, which even Apple are starting to get on board with – announcing recently that they will begin testing the sale of iPhone parts to fix your own phone at home.

Changing why people buy, is somewhat harder because we need to change people’s values and create new desires – this work goes deeper. But this work is also key, because if we can change why people buy, we will be tackling some of the underlying drivers of what, how and ‘after’ they buy.

People buy for lots of different reasons, but often, the things we buy, are chosen because they allow us to live what we consider (or have been taught, by society, culture, advertising, films, celebrities, friends, and family) to be a successful life.

But in buying all these markers of a successful life, we are destroying the planet.

People are increasingly feeling uncomfortable.

We can feel the tension in the air - it sits between our fear of what’s happening to our planet and our civilisation, and our desire to have a successful life.

Increasingly we are trying to change the world we live in by changing how we shop, how we engage with politics or how we work, at the very same time as behaving in ways that that whilst feeling good, contribute to damaging the very world we’re trying to change.

We need to redefine what a successful life means.

From ‘THE SUCCESSFUL LIFE’ (in capital letters and a fancy font), to something more akin to the ‘The Good Life’ (in relatable, human sized letters).

The Purpose Disruptors did some research to define ‘the Good Life’ and their work shows that many people in the UK define the good life as one that is simply more interconnected. That includes connection to self, to each other, to community, and to nature.

This might not be the perfect vision of a good life for every citizen but is certainly moving in the right direction. We need to demonstrate that by changing what and how people buy, and by demonstrating more responsible behaviours after purchase – brands are enabling people to live a good life, on their terms.

We know that it is possible to create change and we have the tools.

Using advertising to change behaviour and create new social norms is our thing. We’ve been doing it for decades…we used advertising to tell people that a good engagement meant having diamond ring, we’ve used advertising to persuade people to wear a seatbelt and be safe, we use advertising to tell people that wearing certain clothes will make you more attractive to whoever it is you fancy, we’ve used advertising to cut the number of people who smoke, and make breastfeeding the norm again (well, we may still have some work to carry on with here!).

If we can do all of that, then surely, we can use advertising to persuade people that sharing clothes with other people is a cool way to access new fashion, we can use advertising to make the process of refilling your washing up liquid bottle easy to understand, and we can use advertising to make the quality of the plants in our garden the thing that ‘The Jones’ try to keep up with!

The will and the ability for our industry to create huge, scaled up change is here – now we need to get to work.

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