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The challenge of climate change was brought into sharp focus during 2009 in the build-up to the UN summit in Copenhagen and the negotiations during December 2009. Against a backdrop of GDP contraction and rising unemployment, leaders were unable to form a global agreement to deliver the emissions cuts that science demands.

In the absence of a legally-binding governmental framework to cut emissions, society continues to look to business to drive change towards a low‑carbon economy.

For smart companies, this offers significant opportunities. The innovation required to tackle climate change will create many green jobs and huge markets for sustainable products. In 2009, billions of dollars in government stimulus packages were earmarked for green projects – China alone allocated $221.3 billion for green business and infrastructure and environmental protection.

The communications services industry will be instrumental in gaining public support for action. This will rely on finding ways to reframe the issue away from negative campaigning to focus on the solutions to the problem and on what matters to people right now – economic security and jobs.

WPP companies are helping clients in the public and private sector communicate on climate change, to promote greener products and to encourage consumers to adopt low-carbon lifestyles.

Listening to the climate conversation

Hill & Knowlton was chosen by the Danish government as official media sponsor for the UN Conference on Climate Change, COP15 during December 2009. Its brief was to support transparent communication of events at the summit and to encourage climate-conscious behaviour by delegates.

As part of its work, Hill & Knowlton created The Climate Conversation website which followed the debate in the run-up to and during the COP15 in Copenhagen. The site gave the view from the conference floor day by day, monitoring the debate and tracking the most influential individuals.

The ‘COP15 Top 15’ list ranked the politicians, companies and NGOs driving the discussion, based on the number of media mentions. The site also included charts and league tables showing the most active sources of commentary split by publications, journalists, blogs and twitterers.

The power of hope

Hopenhagen: population 6.8 billion
Hopenhagen: On December the world's leaders will gather in Copenhagen to decide the future of our planet. Maybe you should be there.

During the summer of 2009, politicians and NGOs were busy preparing for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. But despite its historic nature, few members of the public seemed to know about it.

Realising the importance of gaining public support, United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon turned to the international Advertising Association to find ways to raise mainstream awareness of the conference. The challenge was to do so in less than 12 months.

OgilvyEarth, the WPP specialist sustainability agency, took on the challenge, working pro bono to develop a communications strategy and campaign for the conference.

Research showed that negative messages about climate change have become much less effective. People want to be offered solutions and be inspired to take action to create a better world.

Using these insights, the creative team hit on ‘Hopenhagen,’ with the simple but powerful call to action, “Let’s turn Copenhagen into Hopenhagen.”

The campaign included 30-second TV spots aired around the world as well as digital banners and billboard ads (including two in Times Square, New York). People were encouraged to visit and demonstrate their support for a global climate accord by becoming a ‘citizen’ of Hopenhagen and signing a petition demanding that the delegates reach a multilateral agreement. During the conference the number of ‘Hopenhagen citizens’ reached six million.

The campaign made extensive use of social media and online ads. High-profile individuals such as Al Gore and Laurie David contributed to a branded blog series. The campaign had 5,000 followers on Twitter and almost 54,000 fans on Facebook.

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Sustainability: from idealism to pragmatism in 2010

Freya Williamsdouble quote image

In December 2009, the world looked on as two weeks of COP15 negotiations failed to reach a binding global climate deal.

What does the outcome mean for corporations and brands? Far from a signal to take a step back on sustainability, we believe it’s a call to action to business to step into the leadership vacuum and forge new paths forward.

If 2009 was a year of ‘idealistic sustainability’ and expectations of multilateral ‘change we can believe in’ – 2010 looks set to be remembered as the year of ‘pragmatic sustainability’, characterised by renewed, diversified action.

So in 2010, expect prudent expectations and practical progress to unlock the inertia, with business – the bastion of efficient productivity – at the helm.

Our prescription for brand success? The 3Ps:

Progress: At Davos in January 2010, Unilever CEO Paul Polman seized the headlines when he pledged to prioritise long-term ‘stakeholder value’ over short-term shareholder value; ditto Nike president and CEO Mark Parker who said he would not wait for consensus on environmental issues to “step up and help educate consumers.” With progress at the global level stymied for now, institutions with greater autonomy have a clear opportunity to fill the leadership vacuum – and to reap the reputational rewards of so doing. Smart corporations will view this as a chance to leapfrog competitors hedging on sustainability.

Practicality: Despite their leaders’ stalling, data show many consumers are more eager than ever to reward responsibility. TIME magazine found that 38% of US consumers make a conscious, regular effort to purchase products from socially responsible companies. With consumers yearning to participate, brands are uniquely placed to empower them with easy, relevant ways to play their part. Like Coke-Cola’s ‘Give it Back’ recycling program and American Express’ ‘Cardmembers’ Project’; participation platforms – with a practical twist – fit the times.

Positivity: The dramatic anti-climax of COP15 left influencers deflated. Protracted economic woes are fomenting mainstream consumer antipathy. The antidote? Strong leadership and positive articulations of a better way forward. IBM broke through with ‘Smarter Planet’, its manifesto for the future. Six million Hopenhagen citizens proved consumers are thirsty for positive messaging around climate. Hope, when grounded in common sense, can be a powerful galvanizing force. Business knows this better than anyone, and brands can make great gains by realizing their ability to give consumers a vision and the tools to build better lives in a smarter world.

The bottom line: While pragmatism in the realm of sustainability may not sound as sexy as the once-promised revolution, it makes much better sense. And it just might get us to that low carbon utopia faster. Remember who beat the hare?

Freya Williams
Co-founder and worldwide planning director, OgilvyEarth

Smarter Planet


WPP company:
Ogilvy & Mather


Smarter Planet

Ogilvy & Mather helped to create the IBM ‘Smarter Planet’ campaign, which is arguably among the most extensive and successful corporate campaigns ever produced.

Launched by IBM chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano, Smarter Planet highlights the challenges facing society and provides the inspiring message that IBM is leading the transformation to a more efficient, smarter world.

Mandate for Change, Smarter Planet’s first print ad, was anything but classic marketing. Long in form and matter-of-fact in delivery, Mandate for Change set out IBM’s argument in clear detail, using thought-provoking content to point out how IBM could make the world work better.

Mandate became the first in a series of 25 arguments and created a cadence of ‘smart.’ Topics ranged from specific industries (retail, oil) to societal issues (water, healthcare) to areas of technology (cloud computing).

If print was Smarter Planet’s argument – television was Smarter Planet’s proof. Enlisting IBMers from around the globe, Ogilvy made the case that Smarter Planet is not some far off notion, but real and happening now. Authentic and true, IBMers shared stories of “what they’re working on”. From “finding new oil in old wells” to “using math to cure disease” Ogilvy featured IBM’s best asset, its people, to make the case for IBM’s expertise in building a Smarter Planet. Additionally, a ‘Smarter Cities’ tour of over 100 conferences accompanied the Smarter Planet campaign, in which civic leaders met to innovate and share solutions to problems facing rapidly-growing urban centres.

All communications drove to a robust digital experience that expanded on the Smarter Planet story. Video content was distributed across eight of the largest video-sharing sites, and links were shared with IBM’s 400,000 employees, who were encouraged to “spread the word” through their own social networking.

Smarter Planet was a resounding success, expanding IBM’s target market by an estimated 40% and increasing its brand value. It coincided with a 58% increase in IBM’s stock price, compared to a market that grew just 18%. IBM was also recognised as one of the world’s most valuable brands by both BrandZ, WPP’s global brand study, and Interbrand – surpassing brands such as Pepsi, Microsoft, GE and American Express.

The Smarter Planet campaign was featured and quoted over 6,000 times across the world’s media, made the cover of Fortune magazine and won the 2010 Global Gold Effie Award. The campaign also successfully positioned IBM as a key player in the transition to a more sustainable future.

IBM has since been approached by US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Premier Wen for advice on building a smarter planet.

As the Smarter Planet campaign continues with its momentum, the next chapter sets out to empower society, government and business leaders with the “how” of building a smarter planet.

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