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How to be good in the ruthless world of advertising

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Cutthroat, challenging, lucrative; just three words that can be used to describe the advertising industry. But there is one company striving to break the mould – Ethical Media Sales & Marketing, whose director, Michael York, told Alex Blackburne about his vision.

Advertising is a relentlessly profitable business. According to the Internet Advertising Bureau, in the first half of 2012, the UK spent the most it’s ever spent on six months’ worth of digital advertisements, with £2.6 billion thrown into marketing products and services – up 12.6%.

And that’s not all. Mobile advertising rocketed 132% to £181.5m; video rose 43% to £69.8m and banners in social media shot up 36% to £134.2m.

Globally, some $506.3 billion (£315.9 billion) is predicted to be spent on advertising this year. The world of advertising is clearly expanding.

Surely, then, it won’t be long before the personally-tailored ads from Minority Report are being installed in shopping centres? Indeed, in February last year, the BBC reported that these kind of adverts – which speak directly to the consumer (“John Anderton! You could use a Guinness right about now!”) – are not just a mere pipedream.

It could be argued that this increased ad spend is just another sign of a progressively consumerist society. But there is a dark side, too.

In April 2010, a well-documented explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig saw 20m gallons of oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico. Shares in the company swiftly plummeted, and chief executive Tony Hayward resigned from his position as a result, followed two years later – somewhat belatedly – by the chair of BP’s safety committee, Sir William Castell.

Eleven people died in the BP Deepwater Horizon rig disaster, which reportedly cost the oil giant $45m in fines.

But in the three months after the disaster, the oil giant spent $93m (£58m) on advertising. According to the US House of Representatives’ energy committee, this was “to keep Gulf Coast residents informed of issues relating to the oil spill and recovery and to ensure transparency during the recovery process”. An example of such an advert can be found here. “We will get this done. We will make this right”, Hayward says at the end of the video, after narrating over images of BP’s clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

But this kind of advertising confuses the viewer. Despite the fact that what they’re seeing is in effect a public information film rather than a product advertisement, by focusing on the more positive angle of BP’s determination to make amends for the disaster, the viewer is led to conveniently forget that it was BP that actually caused the catastrophe in the first place.

It’s all an attempt to make the company seem like a responsible global firm, not the environmentally damaging, profit-driven conglomerate that it actually is.

This is the cutthroat nature of advertising. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and indeed, one man is on a mission to transform the industry for the better. Michael York has set up Ethical Media Sales & Marketing (EMSM) – an advertising sales agency that he set up to sell space in progressive, environmental and ethical media, to the market known as ethical consumers.

Having worked in marketing for global justice title, the New Internationalist, for many years – a role he still spends half of his time undertaking – York founded EMSM earlier this year.

I saw a bit of a gap in the market and thought I could set something up to try and sell advertising in a different way”, he says.

I know exactly how it works; I knew what I liked about the way certain people worked and I knew what I disliked about other things, so I just wanted to do advertising sales in a much more upfront and honest way, and work especially with small groups to try and get their marketing to actually work and be cost effective.”

When York has his New Internationalist hat on, he runs the marketing for various ethical mail order shops such as Amnesty and Friends of the Earth. For the EMSM side of his work, he sells the advertising space in a range of environmental and political titles, including the Friends of the Earth membership magazine called Earthmatters; the Centre for Alternative Technology; a couple of Soil Association titles; Red Pepper; the New Internationalist and a vast website called openDemocracy.

“As well as having a highly targeted group of over 100,000 print readers and 500,000 web readers, EMSM’s unique selling point is the fact that I know the ethical market inside out”, York explains.

The way I live my life in terms of the things I do and the things I consume are exactly the sort of things that I am trying to sell within the media I represent. I’m incredibly comfortable talking to the charity world, organic food producers, car clubs and educational establishments that might be marketing development or environmental courses. It’s just where I’m coming from, so I just feel that I don’t appear like a typical kind of annoying advertising sales person when I’m talking to people.”

But whilst many advertising agencies will fight tooth and nail to seal a certain deal or get the best possible price for another, EMSM’s attitude is much more liberal – insofar that profit isn’t its primary driver. Instead, client satisfaction and impact of advertisements are at the top of its agenda.

I’m keen to make things work for people, rather than quickly making my commission and then dropping it – Michael York, EMSM

The worst thing for me is to force somebody to spend some money on something you don’t think is going to work, and that’s what’s happening so much in the advertising world –making money quickly and people getting commission and agency discounts when they’re a media buyer, and the whole thing is quite wrong”, laments York.

I want to do it in a different way, and I’m hoping that that’s coming across with everybody I’m talking to, and that I can have a good relationship with the publishers so I can actually come back and say that a certain campaign for a small charity, for example, really hasn’t worked, so we should perhaps give them a bit of free web space or a free e-news space or something.”

I’m keen to make things work for people, rather than quickly making my commission and then dropping it.”

Moving away from advertising, the media world is often not much more ethical. Doorstopping and so-called ‘death knocks’ are common practice – especially in the tabloid press – while phone hacking has cast a very dark shadow over certain newspapers – most notably The News of the World, which was forced to close down last year because of the outrage surrounding its involvement in the scandal.

Lord Justice Leveson, whose much-reported inquiry looked into the “culture, practices and ethics of the press”, is due to publish a report on the matter later this year, with media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s vast empire expected to take an almighty hit. His son James currently sits on the BSkyB board, and responsible investment campaigners FairPensions today launched a campaign to oust him from the organisation altogether.

It’s clearly a hot topic, so in line with this, Blue & Green Tomorrow’s final guide of 2012 is on responsible media. But does this term actually exist or is it an oxymoron?

Responsible media for me means honest media that is trying to tell the truth. Real Stories from real people”, York describes.

It’s not set up purely to make money; it’s set up to tell stories and report on news that’s worthwhile. All the titles I represent will be environmental titles, social justice titles or political titles, and all coming from where I believe things should be written about and reported on. Journalism is at the heart of the publication rather than advertising.”

I would turn down media that came to me that I didn’t believe in what they were writing about. Also, if I were approached tomorrow by Shell to try and do a bit of greenwashing in the New Internationalist – very unlikely, I know – then I would know that both me and the publisher would want to turn them down.”

Even a national newspaper like The Guardian has got to make compromises and will take advertising that you know its owner really wouldn’t agree with, but they’ve just got to meet those targets and sell advertising space.”

I’m always flicking through the New Statesman to see what advertising it’s getting, to see if there’s anything I should be thinking about, and I am quite appalled by the McDonalds adverts, the car adverts, the British Nuclear Fuel adverts and so on. I can’t believe my eyes when I see a multinational oil advert from a company that is ripping apart the Canadian landscape to extract fuel from tar sands backed by a British bank who is supposedly owned by the British public. It depresses me – that’s exactly where I don’t want to be.”

More and more advertisers are turning to greenwashing to dress up their products and services as more environmentally-friendly.

And that brings us to an altogether more contentious issue. Companies across the world have latched onto the growing concern for the environment by turning to greenwashing – making their products, services and business appear more environmentally-friendly (or less environmentally-harmful) than they in fact are.

This is a devious and deeply worrying trend, but luckily, it’s fairly easy to spot. A quick Google search for a company’s environmental record is sure to uncover any would-be greenwashers. Greenpeace set up StopGreenwash.org in order to try and expose companies that fall foul of the practice, while organisations like the Carbon Disclosure Project release in-depth statistics relating to the carbon footprint of many of the world’s biggest firms. However, being exposed usually does little to stop greenwashing occurring.

The most powerful element in advertising is the truth”, said the late American advertising guru Bill Bernbach. But sadly, that mantra is oft-forgotten in media circles nowadays.

But what of the future? In which direction does Michael York see the advertising industry heading in? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? An imminent shift, perhaps. Or is the advertising world destined to continue on a road seemingly lacking in morals and ethics forever?

It will just depend on what people are prepared to pay, in terms of placing those adverts. If it’s working for those advertisers, then it will just continue”, York predicts.

I think there is a definite growing demand for an alternative way of life and things that make a difference, like car clubs, local organic food or fairly traded clothing. I hope that consumer power will force the people that are running the big media companies to make different decisions, to push these kinds of advertisers a little bit more, and maybe give these advertisers slightly better deals than the big multinationals that have got all the money to throw at a brand. So that advertising isn’t just about making money, it’s about promoting useful services or products that don’t harm our world.”

Further reading:

James Murdoch told to resign from BSkyB by responsible investment campaigners

News Corporation and ethics – an oxymoron?

Church to engage in “board-level dialogue” over News Corporation investment

FairPensions to host training event for responsible investment lobbying

 

Editors Choice

2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage

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Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/droidworker

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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Environment

How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018

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eco-responsible
Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/kengmerrymikeymelody

Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.

Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:

1. Energy – produce it, save it

If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.

It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.

While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!

2. Don’t be just another tourist

Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.

3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly

eco-friendly

Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t  mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.

To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.

It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.

4. Know thy recycling

People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.

People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.

5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool

Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.

All in all

The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.

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