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Ad Industry's Top Creatives Have United to Fight Climate Change

Image credit: Donate:60

In the true spirit of coopetition, 17 of New York’s top marketing, advertising and communications agencies have partnered with leading climate scientists and non-profits to harness consumer insights and creativity to motivate urgent and collective action to address climate change, starting with Gen Z — an estimated 17 million soon-to-be-voters citing a deep passion for climate change and other societal issues.

The coalition, a 501(c)(3) organization formed under the name Potential Energy, now includes Barton F. Graf, CAA, Digitas, Droga5, Hill Holiday, Lippincott, Maslansky+Partners, MRM//McCann, m ss ng p eces, Oberland, One Hundred, POSSIBLE, Purpose, R/GA, WME, Work&Co and Zenith.

Potential Energy was incubated by creative consultancy Lippincott and its Chief Strategy Officer, John Marshall, in partnership with Dan Schrag, Director of the Harvard Center for the Environment. Through a targeted portfolio of advocacy campaigns, Potential Energy aims to educate the public about climate change, simplify the language around what is needed to mitigate its long-term impact and mobilize action. The organization’s success over a five-year period will be measured by significantly expanding the size and power of the group of voting-age citizens viewing climate solutions as a number-one voting priority, from 6 million today to over 10 million by 2023.

Potential Energy’s first initiative, launched in May, was Donate:60 — a student-led nationwide campaign asking valedictorians and class leaders to donate 60 seconds of their commencement speech to the issues that matter most to their generation: along with action on climate change, messaging on safety from gun violence; and equality across race, gender and sexual orientation were added as issues the students felt compelled to address. More than 250 students heeded the call to action spanning 136 cities in 24 states.

The primarily digital campaign leveraged social media to amplify the message of #donate60seconds and reach hundreds of thousands of student voters across the United States.

“This effort is unique in the history of our industry,” explained John Marshall, President of Potential Energy and Chief Strategy Officer at Lippincott. “We’re mobilizing a previously untapped resource to take on what is arguably the greatest existential challenge we face as a society. From our vantage point as marketers, we believe America is close to a tipping point and we want to do whatever we can to get the right message out there.”

“It was really powerful to work with students to make this campaign happen. This generation is so awake, so passionate, so brave,” Casey Rand, Droga5’s group creative director, told Ad Week. “When we first pitched (graduates) the idea to hijack what was, for many of them, the most important moment of their lives, there was zero hesitation. Having all the agencies come together to execute the idea was also very inspiring. It’s nice when we can do work for the greater good.”

Working with non-profit partners such as the Alliance for Climate Education, The Brady Campaign and Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, Potential Energy agencies Barton F. Graf, Digitas, Droga5, m ss ng p eces, Lippincott and Zenith took their lead from 100 youth from across the country who created the call to action but needed help getting their message heard. The agencies provided pro-bono creative talent, brand design, web design, social media strategy, message development, video production, animation and more.

For now, Potential Energy’s work will focus primarily on climate change.

“Communicating the existential challenge of climate change has been an intractable problem for decades,” Schrag said. “We are optimistic that bringing together the power of the very best skills on Madison Avenue can create the new approaches we need to motivate the public towards action.”

As Marshall told Fast Company, the old, anti-capitalism narratives in climate change communications, based on guilt, fear and cutting back individually, haven’t worked; Potential Energy’s approach will center on cultivating the business and innovation potential for finding solutions.

“Anyone lucky enough to see Dan (Schrag) present on the issue quickly learns that the way to solve climate change isn’t through sacrifice, as much as it is through innovation,” he said. “The entire global energy system needs to change, and quickly. And that is as much an opportunity for our clients as it is a threat. It’s the biggest capitalist opportunity the world has ever seen.”

This is just the latest industry effort to make climate issues more engaging to the public in order to foster understanding and galvanize concrete action. In March, World Wildlife Fund challenged the marketing industry to use its influence to help deliver a more sustainable future with Project Extraordinary, a global video challenge that aimed to harness creativity through short films to give sustainability mainstream appeal and encourage one billion consumers globally to make more than 50 percent of their purchases based on sustainability as one of the top three decision triggers by 2020. The winning submission will be featured at the UN Social Good Summit in September.


Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]


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