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Is this the last year of Black Friday and Christmas adverts?

Posted on 17 December 2020

A report timed for publication just before Black Friday has argued that the advertising industry needs to change to reduce its impact on the environment. The report, by the New Weather Institute think tank, highlights problematic forms of advertising, all of which, it argues, indirectly contribute to the climate change emergency. The report forms part of the New Weather Institute's "Badvertising" campaign, which is calling for an end to these forms of advertising.

Areas identified as problematic include the promotion of consumerism and a "work and spend" cycle, alongside the advertising industry's role in the sales of beef, tobacco, SUVs and flights.

Key findings include:

  • the more that people prioritise materialistic values and goals, the less they adopt positive attitudes about the environment and the less they engage in pro-environmental behaviours (a trend seen across a wide range of age groups and countries across the world); and
  • available evidence demonstrates that advertising leads to individuals placing a higher value on consumption, which, in turn, leads to longer working hours and fewer hours for non-work activities (such as making meals rather than buying pre-packaged food). Longer working hours are associated with higher greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption.

Is this report the end of advertising? Most likely, no. However, it does bring the advertising industry within the remit of the climate change agenda, and could signal the beginning of more regulation for the industry.

The UK's Advertising Standards Authority (the ASA) has a history of monitoring (and subsequently confronting) topical issues. For example, it has recently tackled gender stereotypes, influencer advertising, "buy now pay later" services, cosmetic interventions and COVID-19 products. The ASA also investigates adverts that include environmental statements. Greater regulation in this space may therefore not be a remote possibility.

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