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When one’s increasingly infrequent thoughts turn to those in the frontlines of the battle to save the Earth, one does not immediately think of the advertising industry. Conversely, when one thinks of the advertising industry, one’s thoughts frequently turn to what one can do to hasten the demise of the planet.
I have seen ads on the telly so crushingly awful that it’s not enough to want to kill myself. I want to kill everyone else, too, just to make absolutely sure that nobody can inflict such atrocities on any living thing ever again.
Failing that, there should be a separate court in The Hague where the Bashar al-Assads of the advertising world are forced to answer for their crimes against humanity. Creative directors in the morning, copywriters in the afternoon. And executives at night, because they shrivel up and die if exposed to sunlight.
The genuinely altruistic greening of the advertising industry sounds about as likely as Hlaudi Motsoeneng getting a doctorate in the humanities.
However, there are signs of agencies being increasingly prepared to spend a little less on central nervous system stimulants and a little more on doing something for the greater good of humankind.
It’s fantastic karma and even better PR.
A lot of eco ads are made by non-profits (like there’s such a thing) that rely heavily on for-a-good-cause marketing techniques. They guilt you into stopping or starting things that, if done correctly, should make the world a happier, healthier place.
As for fuzzy shibboleths like, “Take a train, not a plane” and “Burn calories, not oil” – they do about as much good as my mother saying to me as a kid: “Finish your bloody supper. There are people starving in Ethiopia.”
For a long time, I thought I was the cause of the famine. What a terrible burden for a child to carry. What was I meant to do – courier my broccoli to Addis Ababa?
If we were serious about protecting the rain forests, we would stop bleating about thinking twice before printing and groups like Amazon Watch would start creating ads that read: “Join us in our fight against illegal logging. Meet at the San Pedro Lodge, Iquitos, on 5 February. Machetes and automatic weapons will be provided!” Free guns? Half of South Africa would be there in a heartbeat.
For green advertising to be truly sustainable, agencies will have to come up with fresh ways to jolt us out of our torpor. When I see images of New York under water, I don’t think: “Oh my God, I have to sell my Land Rover and buy a horse!” Other thoughts go through my head. Things like: “Oh my God, I have to get to the bottle store before six!” I’m sure I am not the only one suffering from photoshock fatigue.
One of the more unusual ads I have come across is Greenpeace’s “Global warming will affect us all”. A malnourished child fair of skin and blond of hair squats forlornly on a drought-ravaged plain. A piece of old sackcloth is draped across his skinny frame. Flies crawl on his frightened little face. Quite frankly, I find it ridiculous. As long as Africa has no permanent representation on the United Nations Security Council, this will never happen to white people. America, Britain and France will simply not allow it.
Right now, I don’t necessarily want people to think twice before they do something to harm the environment. I want them to think twice before they do something to harm me. Before getting people to agree to recycle, we should first get them to agree not to cut our throats for a cellphone.
Buy renewable energy credits? I can’t even remember to buy electricity.
My house is regularly plunged into darkness at the most inappropriate of times. My ex-wife would get so angry with me that she literally glowed in the dark. I should have rented her out as a source of eco-friendly mood lighting.
Frowning men in beards will tell you to find the most energy efficient household appliances. For me, an energy efficient TV is one that allows you to change channels just by thinking about it. I’d save a considerable amount of energy if I didn’t have to look for the remote every night.
And the most energy efficient fridge is one that senses when my beer is almost finished and dispatches a robotic trolley carrying a fresh one. The trolley should be programmed to find me wherever I am in the house. Maybe it would be easier to train the dog.
In America, you can get what they call a “do-it-yourself solar electric system” for about R4 000. Even though I am a firm believer in DIY (every time my ex gave me a chore, I’d say “do it yourself”), I am not so much Mr Fix-It as I am Mr F**k-it-Up. I would build my own solar panels in such a way that they would absorb enormous amounts of energy and then suddenly discharge it all at once, blowing up the sun and tarnishing my reputation as an environmental activist.
I took an online test to check my carbon footprint the other day. I lied, of course, like I have lied in every test since second grade. I said I lived alone in a one-bedroomed house, didn’t own a car and never flew anywhere. Instead of lauding me as some kind of hero, I was told that I emit 9.2 tons of CO2 a year. And I’m the liar?
What the hell do they want me to do – live in a cave and wear a loincloth made of straw? Warm myself over a picture of a fire drawn on recycled paper? Eat nothing but methane-free beans and bread made from bark? Excuse me while I curl up and die. Sorry. Will that be okay? I don’t want to be any bother.
Then again, the energy the planet will waste on decomposing me could be put to much better use. It’s all very confusing.
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