Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Brands have been sleep-talking for too long. 2021 needs to be the year they wake up.

By Camille Verniolle, Sales Director at WeTransfer

These articles have been written by the second cohort of the Practice Makes Unperfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices.

As a consumer (and a ‘creative’) I sometimes feel disappointed and betrayed by brands. For many years I’ve obediently bought products I don’t need. Most of my monthly wage has gone to marketing messages I’ve listened to, and businesses I’ve been loyal to. But now – just when I need these brands the most, when we all do – they’re letting us down.  

I’m talking about greenwashing. The illusion of doing something good, simply for the sake of joining a bandwagon. Collectively and individually, consumer businesses have the power to… well… pay taxes for a start, but also spark policy changes, behaviour change, to alter perspectives. Yet time and time again we’re seeing only minor improvements to production (with cleaning products, for example) hyped up beyond belief in multi-million-pound ad campaigns. In the same way that our dreams are just the processing of stuff that happened during the day, it seems that many marketers are simply processing and repeating stuff they’ve been told in trends reports. It’s like they’re sleep-talking, and we’re forced to listen. 

As consumers, most of us are guilty of buying things that contribute to landfill, CO2 emission and modern-day slavery.  It’s hard to get out of that cycle, especially in the face of cheap convenience. I’m guilty of buying those bright comfy slacks from a fast fashion brand, in one click, delivered the next day instead of spending hours researching the eco-friendly, sustainable sweatpants that cost 100 euros. However, small changes can make a big difference: I go out of my way to try to carry all my groceries in my arms (and the ends of my teeth!) because I refuse to use another plastic bag, or rather not drink for a whole day than buy another single-use plastic bottle. And yes, I pay for more expensive (and less soft) toilet paper that is 100% tree-friendly – I’m just that kinda girl!

I have a brand to thank for this behaviour: The Good Roll. The Good Roll are the perfect example of creativity plus action which is so typical of the small up and coming businesses designed to make a difference. They sell 100% tree-friendly and sustainable toilet paper and donate 50% of profits to building toilets in developing countries. They have a number of creative ass-ets (their pun, not mine!) that keep you entertained while in the bathroom, like this crazy animated video (it’s in dutch, but that doesn’t matter!).

Another Dutch company leading the way is Tony’s Chocolonely. They have a wider mission than to sell chocolate: create 100% slave free chocolate. They’ve not only created a unique, eye-catching branding but this use of creativity trickles all the way down to their advertising and even their physical product. They’ve created a new way of ‘breaking’ chocolate: their bar has unequally divided pieces because they believe the cacao industry is too. They’re about to open a fairground in their factory! Their playful and creative approach to a very serious problem allows the brand to create a meaningful connection with consumers and through this have more weight to drive change. I love THEM and I don’t even like chocolate (true story). One of their latest campaigns on WeTransfer places creativity, the product and the activist message at the heart of it, whilst at the same time being beautiful and non-intrusive. One more over here.

More and more consumers are starting to make shifts in their purchase decisions.  A Global Web Index study in 2020  indicates that 46% of internet users are looking for brands to be eco friendly and 2 out of 3 are willing to pay more for an eco-friendly product. 

Another study, from Deloitte, found that 1 in 3 people choose brands that have ethical practices and 43% choose ones that have sustainable practices. However, especially in this financially stressful situation, many people don’t have the luxury of paying extra for sustainable goods, being concerned with simply just surviving on min wage. That is why brands – all brands – need to be changemakers in their respective fields. They need to protect the consumers that have kept them afloat for so long: even the ones who can’t afford a bougie choice of a bamboo toothbrush or overpriced shoes from recycled plastic. 

Being sustainable doesn’t need to mean your business takes a hit. Brands can still be smart about integrating real change from within. Chanel and Burberry are exploring financial avenues to support their commitment to more sustainable practices. As a result, they are issuing what they call sustainability-bonds. These are bonds with clauses linked to the companies’ environmental goals, with any proceeds goes to investing in startups who are developing alternatives to plastic & leather. 

The Kering Group (who own Saint Laurent, Gucci, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta etc) have created an innovative tool for measuring and quantifying the environmental impact of its activities. This is called the Environmental profit & loss model. More specifically it measures the carbon emissions, water consumption, air & water pollution, land use and waste production along their entire supply chain. It also helps identify business opportunities to ensure strategic decision making for the group’s business longevity while minimising environmental impacts. Even better – this is an open-source tool encouraging other peers in the Luxury industry and other sectors to adopt it!

I get it: companies are tired! Marketers are tired! 

But so are we: having to navigate this complicated market trying to work out how we’re damaging the planet with every purchase. At WeTransfer I’ve been lucky enough to work with brands, like Tony’s, who are leading the way, while many other brands sleepwalk and talk through our world. But as a creative community, we must be louder about what we expect from brands, whilst celebrating those who are creating change, to wake the lazy ones up once and for all.