Lobbying for ad agencies to ditch big oil customers
here is a file A statement that is absolutely correct: between 2015 and 2019, oil and gas companies doubled the share of their capital spending directed to renewables and carbon capture technologies. Here’s the chaser: That represents less than 1% of Big Oil’s total capital investment, according to the International Energy Agency; Still 99 percent He went to oil and gas.
Additional context paints a very different picture of fossil fuel companies’ investments in green energy. Now, with state and local courts sorting through ongoing cases against the oil majors to mislead the public about their role in climate change, a new alliance of public relations and advertising agencies responsible for corporate messaging is emerging.
Duncan Meisel is director of Clean Creatives, a coalition of people in advertising, public relations and marketing to turn down contracts with fossil fuel companies. Meisel says the idea for the pledge came after years of working in communications for environmental nonprofits, where progressive messaging campaigns are often countered by oil industry talking points from well-funded PR firms.
“Individuals within the creative industry have the ability to talk to their leadership, and the organizations they work with, and get them to stop promoting companies that bear the greatest responsibility for climate change,” Meisel says. So far, more than 300 workers and 120 agencies have signed the pledge.
“Shell might come to us with a million-dollar contract, and we’re giving up on that,” says Roger Ramirez, chief growth officer for New York-based ad agency Mustache, which signed the pledge earlier this year. It’s not an easy decision, says Ramirez, because “the reality is that the company was not built to withstand the rejection of potentially large engagements.”
While Ramirez and others within the agency have long supported social causes, the agency’s parent company, Cognizant, has reservations. At about 60 people, Mustache is a medium-sized agency owned by a multinational parent company that works with fossil fuel companies. In the past, Mustache has snatched some of these contracts as well, which made the pledge seem even more surprising.
“It was definitely a hitch for us, and it required a lot of conversations,” Ramirez says, describing months of conversations between people at Mustache and Cognizant.
Ultimately, the Mustache team convinced its owners by linking the Clean Creative pledge to its past commitments to diversity and racial justice and an argument that racial justice should include environmental justice and sustainability.
Most advertising agencies are organized similarly, which means that sustainability commitments — no matter how big or small — mean compelling bosses, says Adam Lerman, associate creative director and head of sustainability at Mustache. Lerman suggests starting the conversation by emphasizing how leadership goals fit into the issue, even if they don’t realize it.
“If you can identify that common interest and provide legitimate, verifiable evidence that says, ‘Hey, this thing we’re interested in is related to this other thing, and we’re actually hypocritical if we do A and B at the same time,’ that might be a way.”
Since 2017, several state and local governments have been engaged in ongoing legal battles with oil and gas companies, accusing them of misleading the public about the role of fossil fuels in climate change. Although no ad agencies have been named as defendants, the complaints identify 15 campaigns as misleading, meaning the agencies that created the campaigns could be dragged into the case.
In August, the American Association of Advertising Agencies issued guidance to agencies on avoiding greenwashing, citing the Federal Trade Commission’s standard of having “credible evidence” to support environmental claims. Alison Pepper, executive vice president of government relations for the group, says there is a “gap” between the FTC’s rules on “reliable evidence” to support a claim and consumer expectations. She says the group urged the FTC to define its rules more on environmental claims to reduce environmental laundering.