Sustainability and Advertising: Friends or foes?

How can advertising and sustainability work together to support a more sustainable future and responsible brand growth?

Ipsos Views - Sustainability & Advertising: Friends or Foes?Sustainability is becoming an increasingly present topic in our lives and in the media. Everywhere we look, it’s hard to avoid questions around building a sustainable future.

Brands have an important place in our lives, providing us with the products and services we need. Some of them are active leaders of the sustainability transformation, but a majority have been part of the problem of overconsumption and pollution.

With over two-thirds of people globally agreeing that if businesses do not act now to combat climate change, they will be failing their employees and customers,[i] it is clear that people expect advertisers to act for sustainability.

At first, there can be a cognitive dissonance when associating advertising and sustainability. Don’t they have irreconcilable objectives? Advertising’s purpose is to sell more, while sustainability aims at “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[ii]

The challenge for brands resides in balancing the communication for a more sustainable future with the potential to grow sales and market share for the brand.

In this paper we delve deeper into this conflict and examine how sustainability and advertising can work together.

To answer this question, we evaluated 200 ads from our global database that included some sustainability messaging and asked what works, what doesn’t work? What are the key trends and tips we can find to help brands build better sustainability advertising? How can brands find a sustainability message they can own?

In our analysis, we identified five key takeaways that we believe can help brands successfully change people’s behaviour and create a more sustainable future, while also helping to grow their sales and market share.

  1. The sea of sameness
    Simply adding a sustainability claim to your ads does not make them work better for your brand; ads must be executed in the right way in order to stand out.
  2. It is all about balance
    Ads that blend brand and sustainability messages perform much better; do not forget to include brand benefit messages in your ads.
  3. Make it easy
    Ads that offer a solution, pulling the consumer into a sustainable behaviour by making it easy for them are the most effective.
  4. Face the issues
    Ads that start with the problem of sustainability head on outperform other ads in terms of effectiveness.
  5. Walk the talk
    Make sure that the claims in your ads are credible and that you are following through on them. Not doing so exposes you to the risk of being accused of greenwashing and facing a media backlash.

To find out more about how to make effective sustainability advertising and the pitfalls to avoid along the way read Sustainability and Advertising.


[i] https://www.ipsos.com/en-vn/global-advisor-earth-day-2022

[ii] https://www.un.org/en/academic-impact/sustainability