2010 Speech to the Austin Advertising Federation

My reprimand to the ad fed for their lack of commitment to environmentalism after 100 years of inducing consumption as a normal behavior.

AdFed Speech 2010
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Likeit or not, advertising agencies helped create the consumable, disposablesociety we live in. “Helped” create, not “100% responsible” for creating. Butjust because the beast was not 100% of our making doesn’t absolve our industryof culpability. Even the fact that these attitudes were formed and solidifieddecades before most of were born doesn’t mean that we, today, are absolved ofthe damage done. We should not, and cannot, wash our hands of this and walkaway saying “it’s not my fault” overour collective shoulders.
 
Manyof us in this room can safely say we weren’t a direct part of creating this“use-once-and-throw-it-away” world we live in. But you are guilty by association. Our industry helped create the mess werein and it’s time we fixed it. In fact I believe we have a responsibility to fixit, to lead by example. And since I’m in advertising, I can stand here and saythat we broke it, we’ve got to own it and help fix it.
 
Thespecter of this seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of disposable consumerismfirst raised its ugly head before most of us in this room were even born. Atthe beginning of the 20 th century, man had just begun to dabble withthe idea of mass production. By the end of the 20 th century, we hadmastered it and morphed it into the terrible beast we know today. We can nowlook back at the advent of the Industrial Age and its perfection over time.
 
Morefactories were built as the demand for cheaply made goods rose. At first, itseemed like a good thing. More people had more access to more stuff. How couldthat be bad?
 
Butthese factories were expensive to build. And even more costly to maintain overtheir lifetime. The best way to make these massive investments payoff for thecompanies that run them was … to run themas much as possible. Make more. Sell more. A simple enough idea. Now evenMORE people had access to even MORE stuff.
 
And this is where the worm began toturn.
 
Manufacturersof durable goods came up with an insidious solution. Let’s make our durablegood LESS durable. Which was a short leap to DISPOSABLE.
 
Thebiggest indicator of this shift in the manufacturing mindset is this: How manyof you heard you father, grandfather, whomever say “They just don’t make ‘emlike they used to.” Well, they were right. They don’t. And that wasintentional.
 
Manufacturersrealized they could keep their factories chugging along and post mind-bogglingprofits if they started to make goods that are designed to USE ONCE AND THROWAWAY. If people have to come back more frequently to replace a disposableproduct, then that market never falters. It’s self-sustaining, but in no waysustainable.
 
Butfirst, consumer attitudes had to change. Awareness had to be created. Demandgenerated. An entire mode of thinking dumped on its head.
 
And who better to do that than us.
 
Andit happened with blinding speed. Within a generation, ad agencies helpedconsumer thought, buying and usage patterns do a 180.
 
Forexample: If you have ever had the pleasure of knowing someone who grew upduring The Great Depression, you know that they NEVER WATSE A THING. If it canbe re-used, saved or repurposed – they did it. Very much a “waste not want not”attitude toward consumption.
 
ButBoomers were born into a different generation. A generation born of theprosperity and optimism of a post WWII America. People had more money than thegeneration preceding them, so companies immediately sicked their dogs... (us)…on them. How much you consumed quickly became as much of a status symbol as thecar you drove or the neighborhood you lived in. Conspicuous consumerism wassuddenly all the rage.
 
Sucha radical shift in thinking can’t just happen that quickly on its own, whenleft to evolve naturally. Especially in an era when mass communication waslimited to radio and a very small number of television sets.
 
Manufacturingcompanies couldn’t accomplish this ontheir own. They needed a partner. Experts in shaping opinion and stimulatingdemand.
 
And that’s where we came in. The need makers. We crafted theconsumers. We created the need. Without us, consumers would never know thatthey don’t have enough. Or even fathom that they could just throw somethingaway and cheaply replace it.
 
Shaping opinion and creating demand are a distinct art thatcan be plied for good or ill. And we are masters of our art.
 
So, in my opinion, we have created this beast, a ravenousmonster that is never satiated. The most harmful version of consumerism everconceived – disposable consumerism.
 
So what can we do tostart taming this beast we created?
 
We are the voice inside the consumer’s head. We are the forcepulling them from one product and pushing them to another. We control themwithin an inch of their sanity and make them love us for it.
 
I think it is time we looked in the mirror and accept that weown this. We have are the only ones that are have the real power to fix it.
 
Why us? Because we can.  Because we alwayshave.
 
Andbecause governments aren’t going to do it, or at least not in time. In the twoyears of intense negotiations leading up to the COP15 conference in Copenhagen,one “landmark” proclamation emerged: Global climate change and the potentialloss of life, famine, and upheaval it will cause... is something we would liketo avoid.
 
Wow! And it only took them two years...
 
Businessesare driving this because they can act faster than governments can REact. Theyrecognize the opportunities not just for risk mitigation, brand reputation andoperational efficiencies, but also for meeting consumer demands forenvironmental stewardship.
 
Every day, we create preference,identity.  
 
Ourclients pay us for our thinking, for our opinions and our advice. They may notalways follow our advice - but if they are paying us for our opinions, it’s upto us to help them lead by example and by action. 
 
Greenis a differentiator.  It changes theconversation; it attracts different people, different companies, strongclients, clients who are leaders in their category.
 
Soif we manage what we measure, we’ve got to start measuring the right things,asking the right questions and doing the right things. And let me say, FOR THERECORD that it really isn’t very hard. You need become informed and you need tostart. Just start.
 
Pickyour shade of Green: money, the rain forest, your own back yard, health andwellness, employee retention, these aren’t competing philosophies or businesspractices... they are different approaches to the same altruistic ideal.
 
Itmay mean something different for all of us, but no matter how you look at it…sustainable business is good business. 

Sustainablemeans we all keep working. Sustainability means efficiency, wellness, managingresources, social justice -- it all comes together.
 
Withinour industry lies some very fertile ground for achieving a higher level ofsustainability while differentiating yourself, both as innovators and asleaders. With new technologies comes an increased level of transparency, bothfor agencies and for your clients. It’s becoming increasingly easy to digdeeper, to see if companies are truly “walking the walk.” Environmentalpolicies and stewardship are clear differentiators, and a company’s effortsmust be transparent, verifiable and real.
 
So maybe you are thinking “Great! Now with all the doom andgloom, I get a nice dose of guilt on top.” That isn’t my goal. My goal is tostart a more informed dialog about how to change the course we are on. We haveto educate ourselves about the impact of our choices. We have to be the voicein our client’s ear educating them about theirchoices. We have to seize this opportunity to make consumers and business notjust greener, but smarter. We are the only ones that can touch every person andmake the impact necessary to swing opinion and preference back the other way.
 
Sowhy should you do something, and where should you start? You should dosomething because you can, and because it’s empowering. Because it will helpyou and your clients. And everyone else. Period.
 
We’vebrought some panelists in this afternoon to share with us what they are doingand why. To show that making the right choices is not only good for theenvironment, but good for your business as well.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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