The damaging reverberations of awards for Fossil fuel ads

Belinda Noble
By Belinda Noble | 26 April 2021
Belinda Noble

Belinda Noble is founder of BeNoble Communications and co-founder of Comms Declare.

The Australian Marketing Institute last year awarded a campaign for Insights Driven Marketing.

That campaign, by JWS Research, succeeded in improving the net favourability of mining – moving it from +29 up to +35 in both men and women, across all age groups and across party lines.

JWS research also boasted that opposition to mining was “declining to its lowest level in recent years, from 13% to just 10% of all Australians.”

By focussing on beautiful rural scenes filmed by the talented people at Kojo Creative the video campaign convinced many viewers that mining land can be rehabilitated and used for farming.

“It’s about giving back to our communities for future generations,” enthused a young woman in the sylvian utopia.

So why do I think this sweet, successful campaign should not have been awarded by the marketing industry? It’s the same reason we don’t applaud successful campaigns for cigarettes – the product is doing us terrible harm.

The video was about the rehabilitation of part of New Hope’s New Acland thermal coal mine in Queensland’s Darling Downs.

Yes, they have rehabilitated some land but that is only part of the story.

New Hope Group has been fined for a range of environmental issues and has been plagued with accusations of illegal mining. The mine was supposed to close in 2020 but New Hope wants to build a $900 million Stage-3 expansion that will increase production to around 7.6 million tonnes of coal a year. This expansion has been fought for more than 12 years by local farmers and environmentalists and is now in front of the High Court. The locals claim, with expert backing, the mine will destroy valuable cropping land, suck up precious ground water, and further erode air quality.

In addition, the campaign was funded by the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA). The powerful lobby group has been named in the world’s top 10 opponents of climate policy.

So, on the surface, the campaign was about mining and land regeneration. Scratch the surface and you are greenwashing an anti-climate lobby group and climate-damaging coal. In a media release the MCA agreed the campaign created, ‘an increase in the favourability of key commodities including gold and coal.’

Are you starting to see the problem? For those who have been living in an underground mine for the last few decades, rich countries need to reduce coal and other fossil fuels by at least 50% by 2030 if we are to avoid more dangerous climate change. This is what the science tells us.

The UK is cutting emissions by 68% by 2030; the EU is reducing them by 55% and this week the U.S. is poised to follow.

So how can we, with good conscience, promote any organisation that wants to lock in an increase in coal this decade? And then reward the research and creative agencies that try to make that decision socially acceptable?

The award season is upon us and, like it or not, award organisers and judges will not just be making choices about campaign effectiveness and creativity – they’ll be making moral judgements about what is acceptable to promote.

Comms Declare has written to major award companies asking them to stop rewarding fossil fuel ads.  We want the communications and creative industries to come clean, stop selling the fossil fuels that are damaging our atmosphere and be on the right side of history.

As the lady in the video said, “It’s about giving back to our communities for future generations.”

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