Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.

…They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.


Banksy/Tejaratchi

There are multiple initiatives underway to reframe people and communities as rights-holding citizens, not just economy-supporting consumers, and to protect and reclaim the environment. These may not be enough to arrest climate change and redress human rights violations, but all are important examples of challenges to a toxic status quo.

A small selection of examples from our report At What Cost? are listed A-Z below:

Ad Net Zero is an Advertising Association-led initiative to curb emissions from the advertising process and harness advertising’s power to support consumer behaviour change. Whilst these long overdue reflections on the industry’s role in the climate and ecological crisis are welcome, the initiative does not look at the emissions impacts of “successful” advertising in selling more products (unlike Ecoeffectiveness and the Great Reset below).

Certified B Corporations seek to redefine success in business by putting social and environmental impact on a par with profit. There are now over 3,700 B Corps in 74 countries and covering 150 industry sectors.

Badvertising is a campaign to stop adverts fuelling the climate emergency. This includes ads for cars, airline flights and fossil fuels. The campaign lobbies for immediate legislation against advertising the ‘dirtiest third’ of new cars sold in the UK (comprising all cars in ranges with average emissions exceeding 160gCO2/km) plus cars which are too large for a standard UK parking space, in a move reminiscent of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 which prohibited cigarette adverts in the UK.

Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign holds the world’s 10 largest food and beverage companies to account for the human rights and environmental impacts within their supply chains. A scorecard looks at seven themes, from women farm workers and small-scale producers in the supply chain, to water rights and access to water resources and its sustainable use. The ten companies are Associated British Foods, Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kelloggs, Mars, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever which collectively generate revenues of more than $1.1 billion per day. 

Brandalism is an international collective of artists that challenge corporate power, greed and corruption around the world. Intervening into ad spaces that usually celebrate consumption, Brandalism uses ‘subvertising’ to highlight social and environmental justice issues that capitalism creates. For example, changing the BMW strapline “Embrace the unknown” to “Embrace the traffic jam”.

Advocacy by the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood led directly to a record-setting US Federal Trade Commission settlement in 2019 that forced Google and YouTube to limit data collection and targeted advertising on kid-directed content. In 2017, it pressured Mattel to cancel the release of Aristotle, an always-on digital assistant designed to “live” in kids’ bedrooms for birth to age 13. Its 2015 campaign against Hello Barbie, a doll that recorded children’s conversations and shared them with unnamed third parties, led to rejection of the toy – it sold just 10,000 of the expected 250,000 units. In 2009, it forced Disney to pay more than $110 million in refunds after the company lied to parents about the efficacy of their Baby Einstein videos.

The Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill was introduced to the UK Parliament in September 2020, with new targets in climate mitigation and ecological repair. These include that the UK must implement measures to mitigate the impact of its ecological footprint, both in the UK and as a consequence of its outsourced supply chains. However, the bill has received criticism for not going far enough to protect the environment.

The Conscious Advertising Network aims to promote advertising ethics in the context of digital media including that consent should be informed and people seen as active participants in their online experience; and that as forms of advertising to or around children evolve, so should the safeguards to their wellbeing.

ClientEarth action against BP caused the OECD to set a precedent in 2020 for action on misleading ad campaigns. The UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises assessed ClientEarth’s world first complaint as being material and substantiated, despite the complaint not proceeding due to BP ending its ad campaign. While BP’s advertising focused on clean energy, in reality, more than 96% of the company’s annual capital expenditure is on oil and gas.

A new Ecoeffectiveness measure seeks to examine advertising effectiveness by analysing and tracking its carbon impact per item sold:

In June 2020 the Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group released its final report following a year-long inquiry into online gambling harm. The report contains 30 recommendations including a ban on all gambling advertising.

Global Action Plan’s Compassion Not Consumerism campaign is host to a range of projects aimed at challenging consumerism as a prevailing value system. Projects include Flickers of the Future to change the dystopian narrative into one where humans and planet thrive together, as told by young people; End Surveillance Advertising to Kids (ESAK); the Goals for Good course to help young people challenge traditional notions of success and explore ways to wellbeing; and #Idontbuyit which supports young people and parents to challenge the pressure to consume, set their own vision for what a happier, more sustainable future might look like and build a resilience to the toxic culture of looks, likes and shopping.  

The narrow parameters of GDP fail to tell an accurate story of whether life is improving, where the gaps are, or who is being left behind. Gross Domestic Wellbeing (GDWe) offers a holistic alternative to GDP as a measure of social progress.

The Great Reset is a UK-based creative industry movement aimed at resetting advertising and marketing industry professionals to become agents of change; resetting their work to promote sustainable values, attitudes and behaviours; and resetting the impact of advertising and marketing by re-evaluating what is measured (for example, always reporting the net impact of advertising on the GHG emissions of its target audiences) and celebrated as ‘success’. The Great Reset acknowledges that the advertising and marketing industry is a key player in driving consumption and as such it bears great weight and responsibility when it comes to the eradication of destructive habits and practices. It builds on research showing that a third of people in the UK say they value material possessions less vs. before the COVID-19 lockdown.

In October 2020 the Green Party announced it is to campaign for an advertising ban on polluting products like SUVs and long-haul flights. The plan is modelled on the tobacco advertising ban, which was introduced in stages in the UK from 2003 to 2005.

The Welsh Well-being of Future Generations Act – which seeks to transform the way public bodies in Wales are improving social, cultural and environmental as well as economic well-being – is the only legislation of its type in the World and has been regarded by the United Nations as a role-model for other countries to follow.