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Brands for Humanity: Rebranding to Save the Planet

The Influencers 163 Add to collection

Loukas Tzitzis and Alex Shifrin at LP/AD discuss the impact brands can really have on sustainability

Brands for Humanity: Rebranding to Save the Planet

Reaching net zero global carbon emissions is the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. And we have under a decade to make real progress. Global carbon emissions have reached nearly 40 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. The net result is that the planet is getting warmer. We can see the effects in the weather irregularities from the recent past, species displacement, rising sea levels, a lack of vital natural resources and the spread of pandemics. This is all real. In order to limit this dramatic change to our planet, 80% of global power generated and supplied needs to be renewable by 2050. Meaning that the energy sector alone can contribute to 50% of the reduction towards this target. The utilities space is front line to getting the planet back to a safe(r) harbour.  

There’s a lot to fix, so it’s all hands on deck. For marketing professionals, that means PowerPoint deck. In a recent conversation, a colleague was overheard questioning the value of our profession. What is it that we do actually? It’s not like during a mid-flight emergency the pilot has ever come on the intercom to ask if there’s client service director onboard. Perhaps we lack the immediacy of a paramedic’s skillset, but if comms held little value, the US President’s office probably wouldn’t have a Chief of Staff. Or a press room. Or a Twitter account.


A good brand inspires

Now is the time for action, on a corporate and on an individual level. Inspiring action means being inspirational. It means connecting on a level that relates to an audience. A good brand inspires action. A mediocre brand is easily forgotten and relies on commoditisation to incite spontaneous engagement. If it’s cheap, I’ll buy it. If it’s at hand, I’ll use it. The issues facing us today are not fixed by solutions that are cheap or easily accessible. Change at this scale demands the net commitment of people and business across the globe. 

Our argument is that good brands are native to this idea. Converse, Supreme, White Claw, Vespa, Guinness, New Zealand All Blacks, these are all brands that inspire an emotive response and action on the part of an engaged audience. A good brand inspires people to act. 


The psychology / chemistry of brand influence

Marketing at its core is a manipulative alchemy. Our goal is to create or change behaviour. The shortest path to action lies in evoking an emotional response. We’re wired that way. The inner cortex of our brain is responsible for emotion. It’s also the part of our brand that’s responsible for action. The outer cortex, on the other hand, drives reason. If we project a rational message, appealing to the outer core of our brain, the net result is contemplation. If we appeal to the inner core with something emotional, the net result is action. 

According to Donald B. Calne, Professor of Neurology at University of British Columbia “The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.” When you’re angry, or happy, or just fired up, you want to do something. A good brand connects with you on an emotional level and motivates action.


Creating action, inspiring advocacy

It’s one thing to sell more shoes, it’s another thing to advocate on behalf of humanity. When it comes to climate change and the health of our planet, one of the front-line sectors is the utilities space. What used to be a slow and moderately static group of companies are the unlikely champions of change. So how do we do that? How do we signal change and inspire people around us to act?

First, you start with a rebrand. When we say ‘rebrand’, we don’t mean a new logo or an ad starring Kylie Jenner. Although, hmm. A business starts with an idea. That idea is manifested into its brand. So when we say rebrand, we mean a purposeful re-examination of ideas and a focus on the ones that resonate, that make sense and inspire. Changing the purpose of the utilities space is crucial to ensuring survival, and letting others know of this purpose is crucial to uptake and change. And change is what we all need right now.


That time a brand got it right

Patagonia. Patagonia is a brand that wears its heart on its sleeve. Founded by an outdoorsman in the early 70s, the brand has always made awareness and activism part of its DNA. Never a brand to stray away from taking a position, as recent as 2020 Patagonia changed up its clothing labels to reflect how they felt about current US politics related to decisions impacting human rights, environmental malaise and a host of other controversial policy changes stemming from the last administration.

(https://www.vogue.com/article/patagonia-vote-tags-political-statement

Levi’s. Levi’s current president Chip Burgh is no stronger to action, having served in the military. With a warrior’s mentality, Bergh has pivoted the iconic fashion brand to tackle some of the issues today from the environmental impact of fast-fashion to workplace conditions and even voting rights in the United States.


So, what about utilities?

Right. Utilities. The utilities space kind of helped to get it wrong, so it’s only natural that you go back to the source to help get it right. Patagonia and Levi’s are excellent consumer ambassadors, but the utilities business is really the frontline here to change things around both from a communications opportunity and from an actionable metric.

First some stats. Energy use is contributing to 73% of all emissions globally, so players in the energy and utilities value chain are doomed to bear the brunt of actionable change if change is to come about. 

A report from Cap Gemini shows that 64% of organisations have benefited from enhanced brand value, positive environment, social and governance perception as well as an increase in revenue from sustainable operations. 

On paper (euphemistically speaking) that all looks great. However, the utilities space has yet to step up and truly do it right. Despite all this, the sector still has trouble making progress. Many companies indicate that they have mature sustainability initiatives deployed through-out their company while only a small minority are currently on track to meet the targets of the Paris agreement. 

Emissions still need to be reduced by another 60% to drive temperatures down by 1.5 – 2°C to pre-industrial levels and in the face of this sobering requirement, many businesses have in fact reduced the pace of their sustainability investments. 


So what now?

A combination of technology, a change in business models, redirecting investment away from fossil fuels, further investment into renewables and low-emission operations are all a must if we are to see this succeed. Despite this bleak awareness, the need to do it has not turned intent into action on a critical mass scale.

One way to help is for those actively involved in transforming their business to signal this activity to the rest of the utilities space. Now is not the time for humility simply because we’re running out of time. Utilities players who are active in transforming what they do must project their goals as far outward as possible in order to inspire a new status quo. Only by shifting this perceived status quo do we have a chance to convincing the laggards to pull their weight.

And this is where comms, more specifically B2B comms in the utility space is not only beneficial but arguably critical in order to help reverse climate change. If we can convince those most responsible for creating this situation to invest heavily into getting us out, only then so we truly have a chance. And once again, while the efforts of Patagonia and Levi’s are noble and necessary, reversing corporate-level behaviour in the utilities space is the front line to making this all work. 



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LP/AD, Tue, 20 Jul 2021 15:53:33 GMT