Will Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection and its $300m ad budget address the role of advertising and the climate crisis?

We think there’s something ironic about the $300 million ad “We” campaign just launched by Al Gore and several environmental groups to address climate change. We agree that threats to the environment are grave, and require immediate action. But unless Gore’s ads also critique the growing challenge to the environment coming from the advertising industry itself, we doubt whether there will be meaningful change. Marketers are unleashing the most powerful techniques to encourage greater and greater personal consumption. Madison Avenue is expanding the boundaries of what marketing can do by creating what it calls its “Marketing and Media Ecosystem.” From behavioral targeting based on the collection and tracking of our online activities, to “immersive” branded virtual content, to “viral” campaigns using broadband videos, the ad industry has embarked on a full-court press to get the public to eat more junk food, buy more cars, charge more on credit cards and take out new loans, etc.

The campaign, according to press reports, is hoping to encourage “influentials” to press for laws and policies. It’s a noble effort, although is using the same techniques marketers have embraced to target teens and other opinion makers to get friends to buy or like brands and products (called “brand ambassadors” by some). The Gore campaign should include a serious call for the public to be concerned about the consequences from the global and digitally-driven interactive marketing machine. Among the policies it should ask its influentials to support, are safeguards protecting consumer privacy and ensuring that marketing in the digital “ecosystem” is done in a way that truly supports an earth in balance.

PS: Before any of the $300 million is given to buy time via broadcasters, cable companies, ad agencies, and online marketers, the Alliance for Climate Protection should first be required to conduct an environmental impact analysis of how these media each contribute to the climate change threat–and what they should do about it.

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Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.