News Exchange: Social problems
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News Exchange: Social problems

A weekly update on the latest headlines and highlights from the marketing sector

Time to collaborate against plastic

Ever since the BBC’s Blue Planet II aired in late 2017, there has been a lot of noise around plastic pollution. With the vast scale of the problem laid bare, big business belatedly started making some moves. Almost 18 months later, large companies continue to announce plastic-fighting initiatives.

A quick search reveals a long, diverse list of organisations that have recently been talking about reducing their use of plastic: Aldi, Burberry, Carlsberg, Coca-Cola, Costa, Dell, Evian, Iceland, Ikea, Lidl, McDonald’s, Morrisons, Nestle, Tottenham Hotspur, Trader Joe’s, Volvo and Walmart. We could go on. Just this week, Procter & Gamble announced it would be putting some of its Herbal Essences shampoos and conditioners into bottles made from 25% beach plastic, while Asda reported that it had saved 6,500 tonnes of plastic in the last year by removing packaging from some of its own-brand products.

Even isolating only 2019 stories about British supermarkets, there’s lots to take in: M&S launching 90 packaging-free lines of loose fruit and veg; Aldi scrapping 5p plastic bags; Lidl scrapping 9p plastic bags; Morrisons increasing the price of its plastic bags from 10p to 15p; Waitrose using the money it raises from plastic bags to support environmental projects; and now, of course, Asda.

Even though some of the supermarkets have given themselves specific targets for their initiatives, those targets are not easily compared and contrasted. Asda’s 600 million plastic bottles or Lidl aiming to sell 80 million fewer bags a year – which should consumers be most impressed by?

“We really need something that cuts through all of these initiatives and gives consumers a way to compare them against one another,” says CIM marketing director Gemma Butler. “A consolidated report – perhaps judging all of the schemes against a single set of standards – would be powerful. It would help consumers identify the brands they want to support and help the brands deliver their messages more clearly.”

Whilst many organisations are still reluctant to disclose their plastic usage, being transparent about the problem seems the only way to establish a new standard of environmental consciousness. But who could collate and codify all of the information? “It would be best coming from an independent entity,” suggests Butler, “an environmental body, perhaps, or even an organisation like the BBC itself.”

Influencers need to think about their own brand

 

News UK, publisher of the Sun and the Times, has launched its own influencer marketing agency. According to the publisher, The Fifth will look after established and emerging talent, helping brands to “elevate influencer marketing into multichannel campaigns”.

Oliver Lewis, who will lead The Fifth, added: “Influencer marketing is one of the most exciting and fast-growing areas in brand communication, but the space is still in its infancy and as with any industry in rapid growth, challenges persist.”

Indeed. In January, the Advertising Standards Authority revealed it had cautioned between 200 and 300 influencers for breaking its rules on paid-for social media posts. That same month, US marketing specialist Captiv8 reported that 11 per cent of engagement with influencer-sponsored Instagram posts in 2017 came from fraudulent accounts. Brands had spent more US$2 billion on those posts.

As a result, the Fifth wants to “redefine” what influencer means and move away from just measuring followings. Instead of the established ‘micro’, ‘macro’ and ‘celebrity’ categories of influencer, those on its books will be grouped into nine categories, including ‘enthusiast’, ‘tastemaker’ and ‘expert’.

For CIM marketing director Gemma Butler, The Fifth makes sense. “Influencers have made it into every space imaginable, so you write them off at your peril. The problem is that the term has been sullied by negative stories about influencers from the bottom end of the market. This is an interesting attempt to overcome that problem.”

The only wrinkle might be The Fifth’s price points. Reports suggest its services on a campaign could cost anywhere from £50,000 up to £200,000. “That obviously rules out smaller companies,” says Butler, “and leaves bigger firms, many of whom you would imagine already have access to higher-level influencers and might not see enough added value in The Fifth’s rather expensive proposition.”

More evidence, please

At the beginning of this month, we questioned the impact of Sadiq Khan’s ban on junk-food advertising across the Transport for London travel network. This week, the Department of Health started a public consultation on a plan to ban junk food adverts online before 9pm. In combination with a similar plan to ban TV ads, the proposal is designed to fight what it calls the nation’s childhood obesity “epidemic”. Politicians from all sides have been quick to declare their support for a ban.

“There’s no doubt obesity is a big problem and, as such, MPs are always going to use this kind of straightforward proposal as a soapbox,” says CIM marketing director Gemma Butler. Advertising Association (AA) chief executive Stephen Woodford also suggested the proposal needed more careful consideration: “UK advertising rules are among the strictest in the world and already restrict the advertising of HFSS [high in fat, sugar or salt] food or drink products in and around TV programmes commissioned for, or likely to appeal to, children.” Indeed, the AA’s figures suggest children see a daily average of only 11.5 seconds of HFSS ads on TV and online.

The AA’s evidence-based reasoning delivers a more powerful message than politicians clamouring to get themselves in front of a microphone, says CIM’s Ally Lee-Boone, and that’s exactly what the wider consultation should be built upon. “The Department of Health should be making more of the research that supports its proposal. For example, Cancer Research UK said last year that watching one extra junk-food ad a week leads children to eat an extra 18,000 calories a year.”

That’s the calorific equivalent of 70 Mars bars or 60 cheeseburgers. Suddenly, 11.5 seconds starts to seem like a very long time and the ban looks like a sensible precaution, not just headline-grabbing nanny statism. “This isn’t a bad idea,” says Butler, “but it needs to be presented properly. If the government can show that it really is working diligently to tackle childhood obesity, the public will take notice and hopefully start to take responsibility for what they can do to solve the problem.”

 

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Tobias Gourlay Journalist
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