Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Sustainability no longer being prioritised in advertising

By Percy Jarvis, Staff Writer

Analysis from CreativeX shows that only 4% of ads from 2020 to the present day contained sustainability messaging, prompted by a drop from a previously upward trend between 2020 and 2022. This comes hand-in-hand with the tightened budgets and changing consumer priorities warranted by the cost-of-living crisis. However, CreativeX notes that promoting sustainability is still good for brands, and highlights the importance of monitoring consistency between brand intent and messaging.

Ahead of Earth Day on 22 April, CreativeX collated creative data from 2.5 million ads across nine markets and 11 industries from January 2020 to March 2023 and filtered this data for sustainability messaging. Many of the industries included face particular pressure to achieve sustainability goals, such as automotive, retail, and food and beverage.

Healthcare and retail industries were the most neglectful – 1% of their ads during 2020-2023 were climate-focused. Meanwhile, the automotive industry produced four times the number of ads with sustainability messaging than other industries. This indicates they may have reacted to pressure to address their disproportionate environmental impact.

While this encompasses the 2020 to 2023 period, observing trends between the years shows that sustainability-focused ads were steadily increasing in prevalence from January 2020 to December 2022, but the onset of 2023 brought a 47% drop.

This coincides with the financial constraints of the cost-of-living crisis coming to the fore, shifting consumer and brand priorities away from sustainability. Nonetheless, it still demonstrates a “say-do” gap between brands’ commitments to sustainability and their actions.

Founder and CEO of CreativeX Anastasia Leng said: “Our research demonstrates that despite meaningful commitments to sustainability, marketers are struggling to embed sustainability messaging into their overall communication and creative strategy at scale. This is a missed opportunity that we can start to quantify with creative data, and the first step towards systemically aligning brands’ messaging with their intent.”

Zooming in on the small proportion of ads that did contain sustainability messaging is also illuminating. CreativeX found that 82% of sustainability-focused ads contained keywords from the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and that messaging encouraging consumers to make greener choices appeared four times more frequently than negative or neutral commentary on climate issues. This shows that climate-messaging in advertising is overwhelmingly positive-focused, despite an ever-present backdrop of climate anxiety. This perhaps reflects brands avoiding negative messaging where possible due to the stress of the cost-of-living crisis taking up much of consumer focus.

Nevertheless, CreativeX still presses the importance of sustainability-messaging, with Leng continuing: “If brands are putting in the effort to work more sustainably, they’re certainly not telling their consumers about it. Marketers who successfully action this “last mile” of their sustainability efforts by promoting their progress in their messaging can kill two birds with one stone: doing well for their brands while doing good for the planet.”