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Extinction Rebellion to adland: 'If your CEOs won't change, change your CEOs'

13 Nov 2019  |  Michaela Jefferson 
Extinction Rebellion to adland: 'If your CEOs won't change, change your CEOs'

Extinction Rebellion is calling on members of the ad industry to join the environmental activist group and to unite against CEOs who are not doing enough to tackle the climate and ecological crisis.

Speaking to Mediatel News at MAD//Fest London, William Skeaping, a creative strategist and Extinction Rebellion activist, said: "I would encourage any young person or person who has any interest in future generations to rise up and create an internal rebellion if asked to work on fossil fuels. This is so far removed from where we need to be, and we need to absolutely toxify these companies and these leaders who are prepared to let this happen.

"If your CEOs aren't going to change, it's time to change your CEOs."

Skeaping, who was at the festival to outline adland's responsibilities to address the impact it has on climate change, added that the group is looking to build community rather than create division - "but where change isn't happening, a rebellion is necessary."

The conversation around the climate crisis has blown up within the industry since Extinction Rebellion held protests at Cannes Lions this summer.

Critics argue that advertising has played a key role in accelerating climate change by promoting unsustainable consumption on behalf of its clients - and earlier this year, an open letter acknowledging this fact and committing to change was signed by more than 50 industry leaders.

Furthermore, on September 23 150 agencies closed their doors for the day to allow their employees to join the climate strikes as part of the Create & Strike initiative.

However, asked whether he was pleased with the industry's response so far, Skeaping said no.

"It's very easy to talk about whatever the issue du jour is. It gives people a rationale to find new ways of selling platforms and ideas to their clients," he said.

"But it doesn't ever address the underlying problem, and the reality is that these agencies and their related businesses are going to have to look at their business models and what part they play in the climate and ecological crisis. We're all going to have to start asking ourselves very tough questions.

"It's time to reimagine what our skills are for and how we put them to use," Skeaping added. "Some of the world's greatest communicators and sales people work within advertising and their skills need to become directed for the sake of the planet, rather than for the sake of profit."

Skeaping also accused the ad industry of doing an inadequate job in mediating between its clients and the public, as a recent Ipsos Mori poll revealed that 85% of Britons are now concerned about climate change, with 52% identifying as very concerned.

"If [agencies] were going to adequately express the urgency of this to their clients, they would not still be trying to slog the same business-as-usual and product cycles which are incompatible with life on this planet."

Meanwhile, Skeaping said that media owners also have a responsibility to rethink their climate change coverage, and while The Guardian has been "absolutely brilliant" in its reporting since pledging to put the climate crisis front and centre of its reporting, there is still "a sort of cognitive dissonance" taking place.

"At the same time [as reporting on climate change], The Guardian will have a huge cooking section about cooking with meat, or they will have lots of advertising for cruise ships or the best places to go on mini breaks by plane," he said. "This is incompatible lifestyle promotion alongside a massive global crisis."

Skeaping called on media owners and media companies to "get to grips" with the severity of the crisis and the part they have to play in relaying that information to the wider public. That should include a level of collaboration and community between media owners and agencies, he added.

Looking ahead to 2020, he said any large scale industry gathering must be a climate summit resulting in actionable decisions by leaders of the industry - otherwise "something has gone very wrong".

Skeaping played an integral role in the Cannes protests in June, which saw peaceful activists detained and arrested by event security and local police. Reflecting on the protest now, he said: "It seems bizarre that you can have talks about brand activism happening inside the Palais and yet, when faced with actual activists, their entire response is to completely shut it down.

"We've got to stop doing what is business possible within the current business as usual framework and start thinking about what is necessary."

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