Madison Ave. Warms to Climate Change

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Shops Vie for Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection Biz

Published: August 27, 2007

Not too long ago, a premier ad agency wouldn’t touch a campaign warning
about the effects of global warming, fearing backlash from the
automakers and oil companies that keep Madison Avenue’s lights on. But
now one of the most hotly contended pitches out there is for the
Alliance for Climate Protection, the organization formed last year by
Al Gore.

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Four elite agencies — Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Bartle Bogle
Hegarty, the Martin Agency and Y&R — are squaring off for the
business and are expected to present to the former vice president
himself early next month, according to executives familiar with the
review. The budget for the "historic, three-to-five-year, multimedia
global campaign," as the request for proposals puts it, is contingent
on how much money the alliance raises. Media spending will likely be
more than $100 million a year.

That elite shops aren’t scared off from crafting environmental
messaging that could be tacitly critical of big business’s sometimes
unsustainable ways is yet another sign of the mainstreaming of green
thinking within the corporate world at large. And within the ad
community it points to newfound willingness to embrace hot-button
social causes. The alliance account, some are saying, could even lend
some luster to the winner’s roster, given many major marketers’ recent
embrace of sustainability throughout their value chains, from product
development to manufacturing to marketing communications.

Formerly taboo
Many agencies do high-profile and often award-winning work for causes
such as smoking cessation, drug-use prevention and disaster relief, but
they typically steer clear of more divisive issues and political
campaigns, making executives who want to work on them do so outside the
auspices of the agency.

Until very recently at least, global warming would have been
seen as such an issue. Long accepted by the scientific community,
research suggesting human activity is raising the earth’s temperature
with dire environmental consequences has been disputed by many in the
business community, especially automakers and other sectors with big
industrial outputs.

But corporate America has begun an about-face in the wake of a
groundswell of popular interest, having seen what developing an
environmentally friendly product such as the Prius has done for
Toyota’s reputation and its bottom line. July’s Live Earth concert,
whose proceeds are going to the alliance, was loaded down with
corporate sponsors, among them Microsoft, whose MSN division had web
rights to the show.

Chris Becker, chairman-chief creative officer of DraftFCB’s
New York office, said blowback from less-than-eco-friendly marketers is
unlikely. "It’s such a loud issue and so accepted that no one can get
away with that," he said. "There’s already such a broad platform for
agencies."

Y&R, for instance, was involved in promoting Live Earth,
despite counting oil giant Chevron as a client. Y&R CEO Hamish
McLennan even appeared with Mr. Gore at this year’s Cannes Advertising
Festival. A Chevron spokesperson couldn’t be reached for comment. And
as more evidence of just how comfortable agencies are with the issue,
DraftFCB last week sponsored an auction of global warming-inspired art
created by employees at the agency that benefits an environmental
nonprofit organization.

Doing something
The Alliance’s RFP
is, as you might expect, part inspirational — quoting Gandhi, M. Scott
Peck, Erik Erikson, and of course Mr. Gore — and part detailed
description of the task ahead for the winner. That will involve
convincing people to making the climate issue, which already has high
awareness, a more actionable priority.

"The world probably doesn’t need much more meek communication
on the issues of climate change," said David Hessekiel, founder and
president of the Cause Marketing Forum. "Anybody with a pulse probably
now knows that there are serious environmental issues facing us, but
that doesn’t mean there’s been a huge sea change in consumption of
energy."

A winner likely will be chosen shortly after the final
pitches, given that the Alliance wants at least a soft launch online in
September, with test-market advertising beginning later in the fall. A
spokesman for the Alliance declined to comment, as did agency
representatives.

Despite the big media budget attached, agencies eager to change the
world shouldn’t expect to get rich in the process. The winner won’t be
expected to work on a pro-bono basis, but the RFP cautions that most of
the Alliance’s partners are working "at below their regular market
rates."

This article was originally posted on August 27, 2007 on Adage.com and was authored by
Matthew Creamer
and
Brooke Capps.

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