A tale of three sustainability campaigns

Adidas, Budweiser and Abercrombie & Fitch. All three of these major brands made sustainability statements via advertising and marketing over the last couple of weeks. How each initiative was received however says a lot about the thinking that went into the campaigns and, possibly, how deeply sustainability has been embedded within the brand itself.

Consider Adidas first. Here is a brand that, on the one level, can be seen as a sustainable leader thanks to its innovative reuse of ocean plastic in its products. So how to explain its faux pas in releasing an all-white running shoe (part of something called the “uncaged” collection) to celebrate Black History Month? Was it just an isolated brain freeze by one department or does it point to a lack of joined up sustainability thinking within the business?

Then there’s Budweiser, which, on Sunday, chose its annual Super Bowl advert to advocate wind power. Fossil fuels and climate change remains a divisive political issue in the US but Budweiser was comfortable taking a stand in front of millions of football fans because it has committed that, by 2025, 100% of the electricity it purchases to power its brewing will come from renewable sources.

Finally there’s Abercrombie & Fitch which has employed a new multi-million-dollar relaunch of its Fierce fragrance to rebrand around inclusivity and eschew the sexualised marketing that it celebrated in the past. Just as Gillette sought to take a stand on gender equality so Abercrombie wants to be a “reflection of what society looks like today and what it is to be aspirational” in the words of its vp of marketing. To back up its marketing the brand is introducing more size diversity in its product range and is moving away from retouching the images of its models.

Those may seem like small steps but they are the type of tangible sustainability actions all brands will need to embrace if they are to maintain the trust of a new generation of consumers - a young connected class who face major environmental and societal challenges and want the brands they buy from to embody the same values of respect that they do. In the new world of sustainable marketing your message is only as strong as the actions that back it up.