Reflecting on the past 12 months, a period when the global community watched in horror as the planet burned out of control, many of us are taking stock and asking whether we’re doing enough to combat climate change. As we mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, this is the question that’s weighing on our minds here at Merkle.
This year, Merkle’s employee-led Corporate Social Responsibility team has made significant changes to the way in which we operate to help reduce our carbon footprint; switching office energy suppliers to renewable and implementing travel carbon-offset to name a few. These initiatives move us in the right direction, but the question still remains: can we do more? Are there opportunities for agencies like Merkle to go even further by embracing sustainability in the campaigns we design and deliver every day?
One opportunity that’s grabbed our attention is the Microsoft Advertising Partner Network - a feature that gives brands access to inventory on sites like Ecosia.org, a search engine that uses profits to grow trees where they’re needed the most. In 2019 alone, Merkle UK client spend supported the planting of 175,000 trees via this network - a staggering figure that highlights the huge impact sustainability and advertising can make together.
Now, most would agree that funding global reforestation in this way sounds worthwhile, but at a time when every penny counts for all businesses, marketers understandably will question the impact this type of activity has on ROI. Typically, environmental goals are perceived as ‘nice to have’ but costly to implement. At Merkle however, we don’t view business and ecological goals as mutually exclusive. Indeed, time and time again, the brands we work with are showing how ‘marketing with purpose’ can bring significant benefits to profitability as well as the planet.
WWF, the world's leading independent conservation organisation (and long-time Merkle client), has always been mindful of the need for sustainable practice in the way that it operates - with paid search strategy being no exception. By running campaigns on Microsoft Advertising’s Partner Network with Ecosia as part of the mix, WWF’s UK click spend has supported the planting of 3,000 trees worldwide, while also exceeding its performance targets in the process (a Cost-Per-Acquisition on some partner sites up to 10x lower than standard campaigns being one particularly impressive call out). WWF’s approach perfectly demonstrates that giving back to the environment doesn’t have to deter from achieving great marketing results.
For those still doubting the value of sustainability as part of marketing strategy, you only have to look at the mounds of research being published showing that, more than ever, consumers are paying closer attention to how brands interact with the communities around them. With 71% of respondents in a recent study agreeing that ‘companies which place profits over people will lose their trust forever’ (Edelman Trust Barometer, 2020), it’s crucial that advertisers think carefully about how to earn their respect and engage in more meaningful ways. It goes without saying that this growing legion of socially and environmentally conscious consumers will be pivoting away from brands that don’t align with their core values.
So returning to our original question, can we do more? The answer is of course yes. However, it’ll require a shift in mindset from agencies and advertisers alike to ensure that sustainability becomes an intrinsic part of the campaign planning conversation. But this isn’t a sole effort, we'll need the assistance of our platform partners too. This year, Microsoft made an ambitious pledge to become a carbon negative company by 2030 with the help of its customers and suppliers. At Merkle, we’re proud to support this commitment as an official Sustainability Champion and look forward to working with our industry peers to address the challenges ahead.
Richard Lewis, Head of Internal Excellence, Merkle UK Agency Services