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‘Real’ deal behind Indian adland’s overarching push on sustainability in the ‘Reel’ world

With various global brands being rebuked for coming up with flashy ‘greenwashing’ ad campaigns that hold no weight to sustainability claims, it is the Indian ad world that is making strides in its attempt to ensure that the needle really moves for brands by guiding them in coming up with a creative, media, and design strategy that actually solves for the 17 SDGs

In an era where sustainability and environmental consciousness have become paramount, brands and ad agencies globally are undergoing a transformative evolution in a space that has predominantly been known for creating flashy greenwashing campaigns. Mind you, India is not behind in its efforts and commitment to making a real difference in the ecosystem.

As to various professionals from the Indian advertising and marketing industry, the country had been working on sustainable development for years even before the 17 SDGs recognised by the United Nations came into the limelight, but in its own idiosyncratic ways. The trend is not transient, but the awareness is still nascent, which is why seeping deeper into people’s mind space and conscience may have taken a while.

Regardless of what kind of work they specialise in, be it creative, design, or even media, ad agencies in India are leaving no stone unturned to actually partner with the brands and help them move the needle for one or many of the sustainable development goals.

Rajdeepak Das

In the views of Rajdeepak Das, CEO and CCO, Leo Burnett (South Asia, India), and Chairman, Publicis Groupe (South Asia), the word 'sustainability' can mean a lot of things today, given that the UN has enlisted 17 SDG goals to radically improve the lives of people and the planet by 2030.

“If you look at it, brands have actually been in action and working towards making it happen for a long time. The only reason why we are seeing it now is because we’ve always looked at it from the front end until now, but brands have always impacted people's lives by coming up with products that are both eco-friendly and solve one of the Global Goals. Sustainability can't be a whitewash; it has to be at the back end as well, and it must be a mainstream economy,” he opined.

He then went on to add that sustainability is not a change that’ll kick in overnight, which is why some brands may be doing everything and some might be doing less, but at the end of the day, brands are working towards it.

Ronita Mukerjee

Striking a similar tone, Ronita Mukerjee, Executive Director- Client Services, Landor & Fitch, also said that while the buzzword may be new, the mindset of doing more with less has been around in India and Asia for ages.

“Even historically, the Asian community or even India has been an expert in doing more with less via frugal engineering or simple hacks, and that is precisely what sustainability is really about, albeit in terms of minimising waste via recycling, creating manure from agricultural waste, etc.,” she added.

Moreover, she also emphasised that at the agency level, Landor & Fitch looks at sustainability with a flexible approach to solve the client’s challenges and needs in two ways.

“In some cases, a structured and rigorous approach is needed that can be resource-intensive. Sometimes, rapid prototyping and clever hacks are helpful to solve the challenge at hand. One is more resource-intensive and leads to assured outcomes for clients, and the other is low intervention leading to high-impact outcomes because not every client or brand may have the luxury of resources, be it in terms of time and effort or even financial investment,” she said.

As a result, the agency does both clever and simple hacks along with a lot of new thinking, product design, etc. depending on the client in order to really create meaningful brand differentiation.

She then went on to add that everyone, in their own ways, is trying to tackle issues pertaining to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, keeping in mind what their expertise is.

"While ad agencies would address it from the communication viewpoint, Landor & Fitch tends to look at user experience and leverage design thinking to deliver new experiences,” she said.

Shashank Srivastava

With the push of Indian ad land on sustainability being out in the open, one of the top advertisers in the country, Shashank Srivastava, Senior Executive Director- Marketing and Sales, Maruti Suzuki, also highlighted that though awareness and intent for sustainable goals always existed, infrastructure and technological advancement may have been a deterrent in implementing these learnings earlier, but the situation is significantly changing now and at a faster pace.

“While we may not realise it, the energy required to serve one million ad impressions is equivalent to charging 121,000 smartphones to full battery or 1 metric tonne of CO2 emissions. In the context of the advertising and marketing ecosystem, the key is to reduce the carbon footprint involved in creative shoots and media buying, thereby reducing media waste. A key KPI or metric for the same would be to refurbish creatives and have a high win ratio: impressions served to bids made,” he said.

On this note, recently, Leo Burnett and AqVerium announced the world's first ‘Water Sustainability Score'—simply broken down in a 1-100 score—that talks about how water is sourced, used, wasted, or recycled in the entire process of creating a product.

With an aim to help brands become more water-fairtrade-positive, this score will be re-evaluated annually, and like many other compliance logos such as the cruelty-free, certified vegan, fair trade, energy rating label, and recyclable symbol, it will be displayed on the product, packaging, and other corporate material through a unique symbol.

While the water positivity score may be a one-of-a-kind initiative by the creative agency, WPP’s media investment group, GroupM, last year came up with a global framework for media decarbonisation that enables the assessment of ad-based carbon emissions across channels and markets. This falls in line with WPP’s commitment to decarbonise its media supply chain by 2030, as announced in April 2021.

Updating the version of its carbon calculator, which provides omnichannel measurement capabilities, GroupM in February this year came up with more granular channel-level measurement capabilities that will enable the reduction of carbon emissions per media impression by 50% by 2030.

In fact, in August 2023, GroupM also partnered with SeenThis to reduce and avoid unnecessary carbon emissions from digital advertising, wherein the latter’s expertise and proprietary technology will be utilised to manage and minimise carbon emissions from creative delivery while improving the performance of display advertising campaigns and helping GroupM agencies redefine and provide more detailed supply-chain decisioning for data transfer within digital channels.

Commenting on what the creative ad agency has been doing lately on the sustainability front for brands, Leo Burnett’s Das shared the viewpoint that an ad agency can do one-off gimmicks as well, but that's not what leads to the creation of magical work. It only happens when one really goes for action—helping consumers choose the right product—and that action comes only after communication, not by whitewashing but by actually building on the initiatives at the back end.

“We as a creative agency are in the industry of ideas and solutions, and we work with clients on their communications, which is why our role and job is much more; it is to build the brand and make consumers fall in love with what the brand stands for,” he said.

To this, Landor & Fitch’s Mukerjee added, “One of our core pillars is making a positive difference—to people, clients, and the planet at large, and as part of the same, our global community of committed thinkers, Good Squad, uses their dedicated time to think about and leverage design and user experience to tackle issues of sustainability that brands are facing,” she said.

In fact, Leo Burnett, for the past three years, has been either getting shortlisted or winning big on the sustainability front when it comes to ad campaigns and the ones that are awarded at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, be it for Whisper’s MobileShaala, The Biochar Project, or Smart Farm for Lay’s.

Similarly, Landor & Fitch brought home the coveted Silver Lion in the Innovation category at Cannes Lions this year for the work it had done for Ariel, wherein the agency created an impossible brief for itself, moved away from using plastic sachets and plastic cups for packaging, and created a recycled cardboard-based packaging solution that was more sustainable and more environmentally aligned, along with being more inclusive with regards to the user experience and being commercially successful.

Maruti Suzuki’s Srivastava also went on to add that, as a conscious organisation, MSIL believes in giving back to society in terms of a path to sustainability, be it via the auto major’s product line-up, manufacturing setup, waste management, or even advertising.

“In terms of our advertising ecosystem, our focus is on recycling or refurbishing our creatives for all kinds of sustenance campaigns, using creative optimisation where we personalise ad content and deliver fewer but better ads, which adds to both quality and relevance, converting static content to digital wherever and whenever possible, optimising landing pages with minimal tracking, and using alternative ways of advertising like contextual product placement marketing,” he said.

Moreover, he also mentioned that the auto major is already in talks with some of its partners, and in some cases, it is also in the beta stage, for bringing a few innovative techniques from the international ecosystem to the country, such as combining live local data with augmented reality or ensuring traditional OOH displays are produced on recycled paper or using carbon-eating paint for murals, etc.

“Responsible marketing is essential for supporting continuous growth, retaining customers, creating new avenues, enhancing brand loyalty, and thereby creating a long-lasting impact. I think any effort or innovation in the advertising ecosystem that gets these fundamentals right is a success, and that should be the key KPI to track besides the reduction in carbon footprint,” he opined.

Further, Landor & Fitch’s Mukerjee also went on to highlight that sometimes clients think of investment in sustainability as an added expense, but what they really need to understand is that those investments can actually help the brand create differentiation, preference, and awareness, as well as drive premiums for their products and services.

“In some cases, clients also tend to use small hacks such as using fonts and colour palettes, among other things, that are not only easier to reproduce but are also more impactful when it comes to conserving energy or even being more inclusive for certain kinds of audiences,” she pointed out.

Vivek Srivatsa

Earlier, in August, Vivek Srivatsa, Head- Marketing, Sales and Service Strategy, Tata.EV, also told BestMediaInfo.com about the brand’s plan to double down on sustainability, not just from a brand communication perspective but also in its newly rechristened brand design.

The newly revamped identity of the EV subsidiary of Tata Motors, developed by Landor & Fitch, entails many aspects of sustainability that the auto player wishes to educate its customers about and, in turn, spread across society, along with the new tagline, 'move', which stands strong on three pillars: Sustainability, Community and Technology.

At the time, he had mentioned that while the word “move” captures how the company is in the business of mobility but also acts as a launchpad to think of this new brand identity as a collective human movement towards EVs, and towards a Safer, Smarter, Greener future, the words “with meaning” build on the intent that the brand stands for- a clear focus on responsibility, collective action, and future readiness.

 “We had a teal colour car as the brand signature colour for the EV models, and that is precisely what has developed into the brand design as well and will be visible across all our different touch points and marketing materials. The one big decision that we’ve taken is about using the various elements of our brand guidelines to deliver sustainability wherein we’ll move from white to black with the spectrum of the teal colour elements,” Srivatsa said.


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