Claire Beale on Advertising

Adland's discovered the green issue - and now it's the only one in town
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The Independent Online

If it's good enough for the corporate big dicks at Davos, it's good enough for this column. So this week we're going green (well, apart from the Grey bit at the bottom).

As some of the world's biggest business chiefs were chewing their nails over climate change in the Alps last week (and let's hope no private jets were called into commission for the trip to Heidi country), the advertising industry was waking up to the fallout.

Yes, green is an advertising issue. Saving the planet is fast becoming one of the hot marketing topics as bandwagon-clinging manufacturers rush to find some environmentally friendly credentials. And where there's a marketing challenge, you can bet there'll be plenty of ad agencies nosing the wind to find a new revenue stream from it.

It's a classic branding issue. The "green" brand is undergoing dramatic rehabilitation. Once a pejorative for all things grubby-hippie, green is now a status brand with the sort of zeitgeist creds that big advertisers are desperate to get their hands on.

You can't open a recyclable newspaper these days without reading about the environmental impact of consumerism. And now that we're all more aware of the environmental cost of our purchasing habits, manufacturers are increasingly being called to account for the effects their business practices are having on the world around us.

For marketers, this mounting consumer pressure could be catastrophic. Brand values that have been built over decades and have cost billions of pounds in advertising to construct are being chipped away in debates over air miles or excess packaging like the one that has raged in this newspaper over the past week.

Customers are demanding green policies from big businesses and if customers are demanding them, then the City is increasingly demanding them; sales and share price are swaying in the wind of climate change.

Time for advertising and marketing to leap into action.

Already no major business worth its BSI kitemark is without its corporate social responsibility mission statement and its carbon neutral ambitions. But if stage one is about constructing the right sort of environmentally responsible positioning, stage two is about marketing the hell out of it. Because no matter how, ahem, philanthropic or ideological the corporate motivation to go green might be, the bottom line demands you tell your customers (and potential customers) all about it.

But last week held a sober lesson for any marketer rushing headlong into green territory. As a brand challenge, they don't come much tougher than trying to graft environmentally friendly credentials on to a brand like BP, but that's exactly what WPP's agencies have spent millions of pounds and almost a decade doing.

According to observers, BP now spends about 75 per cent of its annual ad spend peddling the green line. To be fair, after the clumsy rebrand (think of the BP green flower logo - a classic case of "oops your strategy's showing"), the strategy has become something of a blueprint for other big corporations seeking to clean up their environmental image.

Then earlier this month the former US secretary James Baker published his report into the 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery. The report highlighted a series of management failures and dramatically undermined BP's claims to social responsibility. The expensive advertising begins to look hollow. Now BP chief executive, Lord Browne - the architect of the company's CSR stance and a pioneer among businessmen - has announced he's quitting his post 18 months earlier than planned. The two events are not unrelated.

BP makes a strong case study for how to market and advertise a green corporate ideology. But it's also an incredibly powerful warning to marketers and their ad agencies that the image must be relentlessly met by tangible business reality.

For adland (not an industry known for its high ideologies) going green is both an opportunity and a challenge. Clients will need communications partners to advise them through the complexities of adopting a green image and advertising that convinces a sceptical public. For agencies as much as for their clients, the green bandwagon represents a potential new revenue stream.

But the real challenge lies in the fact that ad agencies are going to have to go green themselves.

That's a tough call. Oh how the ad industry sniggered when St Luke's launched the first carbon neutral ad back in June 2004. OK, it was St Luke's: London's hippiest ad agency and one whose history is grounded in a few pretty loopy practices. So that was easily enough dismissed as a headline-chasing fad.

Now the Carbon Trust, which has a mighty £50m advertising kitty, has just called a pitch for a campaign to drive awareness of its work. That's a very nice little ad account to have and agencies will be scrambling for the brief. The Trust's roster of agencies - WCRS, VCCP and Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R - will no doubt be busily examining their own carbon rating in the process.

But ad agencies are experts in the big gesture, particularly when it comes to their own marketing (the glossy hard-back brochure that goes straight in the client bin, the elaborate direct mail campaign with expensively frivolous packaging). Expect many embarrassing gaffes before adland really gets its own green house in order.

From Green To Grey

When Tamara Ingram took over as the UK CEO of Grey, one of London's biggest advertising agencies and part of the global Grey empire owned by Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP, I was sceptical about her chances of turning round what is also one of the, er, greyest, least exciting operations in adland.

Tamara, Tam to her army of friends, is one of advertising's throwbacks - a homage to the 1980s adland luvvie: everyone is "darling", life is almost always "fabulous". Back in May 2005 it didn't look like a promising appointment. Now Ingram's up and off, taking on the formidable but exhilarating task of running WPP's global relationship with the mighty Procter & Gamble, one of the world's biggest advertisers and, with an adspend of more than $1bn, one of Grey's most crucial clients.

The truth is that over the last couple of years Ingram has proved herself every bit a strong, if fundamentally traditional, agency manager - from her energy and enthusiasm, great client relationships, to her old-fashioned work ethic and deep-seated professionalism. So has all this made a difference at Grey? Not much. The agency has scored a few more creative triumphs (notably the multi-award winning campaigns for AOL and Horlicks) and reckons it's notched up double-digit revenue growth since her arrival, but Tamara's reign will be forever tainted by Grey's failure to land the £75m Sky account.

Grey has not changed in any fundamental, lasting sense. Not a bit of it. That's because the agency will always be largely defined by the sort of clients it handles, and Grey handles some big household brands (Fairy, Morgan Stanley, Visa, Hugo Boss, and Emirates among them). These clients are often more interested in advertising that wins effectiveness awards, instead of just creative ones. Grey is a big network agency for big, grown-up international brands.

The irony is that if Ingram is successful in her mission to work with P&G to revolutionise marketing in the digital age, she could end up having more of a bearing on the sort of work that redefines Grey than she ever did when she was its CEO.

Claire Beale is the editor of 'Campaign'

Beale's Best In Show: EC Environment Directorate-General

The European Commission's Environment Directorate-General doesn't sound like a promising client. With more than a whiff of marketing-by-committee and lowest- common-denominator pan-European advertising, this could have turned into the client brief from hell.

That M&C Saatchi has managed to make something weird and wonderful out of it is nothing short of a creative triumph. OK, the whole ad looks like it has been spewed from the addled brain of someone who has digested a few too many (organic) magic mushrooms, but the startling animation has a real impact that stops you in your tracks.

It's designed to raise awareness of climate change, and the agency has come up with a cartoon that shows four characters doing their bit for the environment, turning off lights, recycling, etc. And when they do their good deed, they turn into (rather disturbing) superheroes. When you consider how easily the agency could have been wrong-footed on this one, you've got to applaud the bravery of both client and agency. Now go save the planet.