Environmental messages do not impact ad effectiveness, data finds

Research from broadcaster ITV and effectiveness measurement platform System1 reveal significant headroom for environmentally-focused advertising.

A green shoot in a forestIncluding environmental messaging in advertising does not impact effectiveness, according to cross-industry research, which shows that being environmentally conscious is neither a turn-off for viewers nor a guarantee of success.

Indeed, adverts with an environmental message perform in line with the UK average, according to ‘The Greenprint’ study carried out by ITV, System1 and behavioural scientist Richard Shotton.

The report also states there is a lot of remaining potential for brands to make green-related ads more effective and engaging.

It is based on a study of 1,000 randomly selected British TV ads from the last three years to assess whether they contain environmental messages and how these have been communicated.

The research finds only 8% of ads included an environmental message. That is despite increasing public demand for climate action and more than 80% of UK adults expressing concern about climate change.

It also suggests the focus points selected by brands often don’t represent the public’s biggest concerns. The most heavily featured environmental message was one of waste reduction (22% of ads), despite waste reduction ranking 60th in importance for reducing carbon emissions according to Ipsos and Environmental Research Letters. That, states the report, means the marketing industry is currently “overlooking the green behaviours with the most impact”.

The rise of ‘greenhushing’: Why are brands going silent about their sustainability efforts?

Green effectiveness

Kate Waters, director of client strategy and planning at ITV, says the study is evidence that broadcasters and advertisers can support green-led purpose. “ITV reflects and influences culture both through our programming and the advertising we carry,” she says. “As such, we can play an important role in helping the nation move faster towards a lower-carbon economy and part of our commitment to doing that is to help advertisers create advertising that works hard to drive the change we need.”

Behavioural scientist Richard Shotton, founder of Astroten and a Marketing Week columnist, explains that “marketing has the potential to be a force for good by encouraging climate-friendly behaviours. However, there are wild differences in the effectiveness of ad campaigns”.

To that end, The Greenprint outlines a range of measures the industry can take to ensure green messaging lands effectively.

It argues such advertising needs to focus on proactive, easy measures with an uplifting tone. Consumers respond less favourably to downbeat, hectoring messages, and ads that use those tones are less likely to achieve any behavioural change among audiences, according to the report.

ITV System1 ad proportion

The study also suggests ads should focus on real people or recognisable characters, as doing so makes the topic of the environment less abstract, and green behaviours feel more achievable as a result. The use of “fluent devices” such as brand characters that recur across ads help to build familiarity and convey messages effectively.

Importantly, the report also finds ads need to be effective in other ways in order to move the needle on environmental considerations among the audience. It states “the best way to make an appealing environmental ad is to concentrate on making an appealing ad first and foremost”.

Unilever calls on influencers to speak up on sustainability as ‘greenhushing’ persists

Jon Evans, chief customer officer at System1, says: “Effective environmental narratives in advertising play a vital role in inspiring long-term change.”

The research comes as the environment-focused festival COP29 kicks off in Dubai. That feeds into the final ‘green hint’ contained within The Greenprint – that of making the marketing message relevant. It suggests wider cultural context is “often the best place to look for triggers”.

Effective environmental narratives in advertising play a vital role in inspiring long-term change

John Evans, System1

The Greenprint argues that marketers have key roles to play around climate change in the following areas: awareness, education, reputation, and driving change. It advocates that, with the amount of headroom the industry has to play with, it should be engaging directly with climate content.