Iain Patton is the Director of Ethical Team – a communications consultancy amplifying the sustainability agenda to make it relevant and attractive to people who don’t care. It does this by building partnerships, advocacy, outreach and capacity building, stakeholder engagement and challenging business to embed sustainability at its heart.
A passionate PR, media relations and communications professional with a track record of innovation, entrepreneurism, and creativity, he is noted for amplifying stories and creating a voice for purpose-driven and cause-related brands and organizations. We caught up with him to talk about advertising and the common good, and the 19th Annual EthicMark awards.
How did you get into this world of ethical PR?
We understand that the natural capital we’re exploiting will simply run out one day. Today’s business leaders have a responsibility to future generations now more so than ever. For us, ethics means embracing and embedding values to ensure we preserve our environment, stop climate change, safeguard habitats and prevent further species decline. It’s about ensuring a common sense business approach that’s based on long-term stewardship of the earth’s resources instead of short-termism.
Look, as an industry we haven’t been half as clever in dealing with the bad stuff: overconsumption of resources, pollution and massive social inequality which sit alongside the growth we’ve helped create. This was the basis for a small group of like-minded independent professionals to get together to create a new kind of team.
But can advertisements change the world?
It can be argued that the communications industry as a whole and the advertising industry, in particular, have long held a reputation for relying on people’s weaknesses to drive sales while compromising access to finite resources by future generations. This thirst for short-term profit has allowed global corporations to make unsustainable consumption patterns the norm and encourage addictive and wasteful behaviour. In addition, communication campaigns have often been complicit in perpetuating negative social stereotypes in the process.
Now as mental health issues across the world reach untenable levels, many unregulated communications campaigns persist in highlighting our inadequacies and aim to make us feel we lack seemingly important things in our life such as cheaply made new clothes, luxury cars, the latest wireless tech or even more exotic adventure to holidays to far-flung remote destinations.
Not to mention Fake News and social media…
While some campaigns rely on making us feel inadequate and unsuccessful, they are also partly responsible for humans drifting further and further away from the meaning of happiness. While all the research tells us that happiness is about gratitude, being ourselves, and living in the moment with what we already have, many communications campaigns take the easy route of relying on making us feel exactly the opposite: perpetually inadequate, wanting to be someone else, and constantly chasing the future rather than being happy with our present.
According to global research director George Tsakraklides, 2019 was a landmark year for the advertising and social media industry in two respects. First, micro-targeting political Facebook ads that were implicated in swaying election results across the globe brought to the surface a brand new, much more impactful way of exercising influence on consumers. Using the power of Artificial Intelligence and the sophistication of personalised algorithms, micro-targeting has proven to be so effective that it has raised the question in some circles of whether this level of mind control should even be legal. The new digital ecosystem, where 87 million people’s personal data can easily be bought and sold without approval, and where Dark Web money sponsors algorithmic campaigns that appear and disappear overnight, revealed that we are potentially entering a dangerous age where those who have the money control the truth itself. They are the ones who get the final word on what is fake and what is real news. This is likely to become a reality unless we have serious conversations about regulation in the digital space.
This was also the year when many people working in the related worlds of market research, marketing, media and advertising, began to realise that their profession is one of the most carbon-intensive ones. When one factors in the consumerism that our industry fuels, their roles are some of the most carbon-emitting across all industries.
In this fast-developing backdrop, this couldn’t have been a more relevant time for the EthicMark Awards, running for their 14th consecutive year. That’s what I’d like to explore more deeply with your readers.
Tell us about the EthicMark Awards.
The Awards aim to continue to raise the bar on socially responsible communications and advertising and highlight the role that the industry has in society. Rewarding ads and media campaigns that “uplift the human spirit and society”, EthicMark has launched its Call for Nominations for this year, the winners to be announced at the SRI Global Conference Nov 11-15.
While equality and diversity have always had centre stage, winners in recent years have increasingly been represented by campaigns highlighting the urgency and rising importance of climate breakdown and the state of the environment. 2019 most likely will not be an exception.
Who are some of the past winners?
The 2018 winners include For-profit DONG Energy which is now Ørsted from Ørsted Energy in Denmark. On their homepage, Ørsted explains its transition from oil and gas to renewable energy, emphasizing that the planet is home to all of us.
The winner in the Non-Profit category is Trash Isles, from the Plastic Oceans International and LADbible. This marketing effort demonstrates the sad state of our oceans by petitioning the United Nations to acknowledge a new ocean state – the Trash Isles.
What are we looking at in 2019?
Hazel Henderson, president of Ethical Markets Media, founder and co-chair of the EthicMark Awards said recently that she expects the 2019 Awards to continue highlighting the force communications, advertising and global media owners, including social media platforms, have to enlighten the public and inspire companies to new levels of creative, responsible marketing worldwide. That really what we mean when we say ads can change the world. They have the power to uplift us, to change our minds, and even change the trajectory of human history.
So where can our readers vote?
INTERVIEW by Christian Sarkar