The Climate Crisis – The Role of Advertising

The Climate Crisis – The Role of Advertising in Promoting Perpetual Growth and Consumption: Could it also promote solutions? What about other strategies?

Presenter: Barrie Webster

July, 2019

George Monbiot, the British, iconoclastic columnist whose writing often appears in The Guardian, has quoted Tim Berry, “Invention is the mother of necessity” and applied it to the advertising industry.

Monbiot says:

“To keep their markets growing, companies must keep persuading us that we have unmet needs. In other words, they must encourage us to become dissatisfied with what we have. To be sexy, beautiful, happy, relaxed, we must buy their products. They shove us onto the hedonic treadmill, on which we must run ever faster to escape a growing sense of inadequacy.”

“Advertising encourages us to compare ourselves to those we perceive to be better off. It persuades us to trash our happiness and trash the biosphere to answer a craving it exists to perpetuate.”

“Most advertising appeals to and reinforces extrinsic values. It doesn’t matter what the product is: by celebrating image, beauty, wealth, power and status, it helps create an environment which shifts our value system. Some advertisements appear to promote intrinsic values, associating their products with family life and strong communities. But they also create the impression that these values can be purchased, which demeans and undermines them.”

Indeed, the advertising industry stitches the system together

Pursuing endless economic growth is folly – George Monbiot

Guy Murphy, global chief strategy officer at J. Walter Thompson, a leading advertising agency says

There is compelling evidence that advertising is exacerbating the ecological crisis by boosting consumption of energy and resources; that it influences our values and identities in ways that undermine social and environmental concern; and that it is eroding wellbeing and freedom of choice.”

Murphy, in his “Planning for the 21st Century,” also claims that advertising simply redistributes consumption amongst brands; it does not seek to increase consumption.

But Can Advertising Play a Positive Role in Dealing with Climate Change? How about a game? or science?


Can we use constructive manipulation of perceived needs and consumer preferences to deal creatively with the climate crisis that is upon us?

What are the advantages?

What are the pitfalls?

How should we proceed? Would it constitute brainwashing? Would it matter? Could it be said that the ends justify the means?

What would the world be like without commercial advertising?