Super Bowl sustainability ads: Enough with the baby steps

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Super Bowl sustainability ads: Enough with the baby steps

This Sunday, as America gathers to consume (according to Wikipedia) roughly 28,000,000 pounds of chips, 1.25 billion chicken wings, and 8,000,000 pounds of guacamole, they will be bombarded by an onslaught of ads that encourage additional indulgence. Beer, soda and cars typically top the list, but mixed into this year’s cocktail of consumption will be an ad that seeks to point our minds in the other direction.

Colgate has adapted a 60-second spot that ran in Columbia and Peru in 2014 to fit into a 30-second slot during this year’s big game.

The ad starts out quietly. The only audible sounds are the brushing of teeth and the running of water as the camera awkwardly approaches a man from behind, slides to the left then reveals the running tap. The 60-second version has a nice build as hands appear from either side of the sink to perform various tasks. One set washes a pear, one set fills a bowl. The viewer quickly realizes that these are not the hands of the ad’s central figure but represent different nationalities from around the world. The 30-second ad follows this same sequence, but it’s a little bit more rushed. Both spots culminate with the face of a young girl who slurps water from her hands.

The message is clear. We don’t know what we’re wasting. It’s a nice reveal, and, although there is a measure of guilt, the ad does a good job in painting the preciousness of water. What will the actual impact be? Probably not huge, but as we wasteful Americans dab the wing sauce from our mouths, I bet quite a few will quietly pledge not to leave the water running when they brush their teeth that night.

Now, on the other hand, the fact that those chicken wings cost over 500 gallons of water per pound is a thought that never crosses our collective minds. The reality that those avocados we trucked across the country were grown on land that is ecologically more suited for cacti won’t be on many people’s radars, either.

Does Colgate deserve some credit here for putting out a carefully crafted message that will have at least some level of impact? Maybe. But, it’s also possible that these baby steps are doing more harm than good. They make us feel like we are doing something, like we’re making a difference. Creative minds like ours package tidbits as big deals and satiate consciences everywhere. For my part, when this ad runs there will be no tiny eco-cheerleaders in my head, cartwheeling as they shout, “Conservation is winning!” It’s not.

We’re still trying to fix major problems with minor solutions, and those minor solutions might just be dulling the pain enough to prevent us from treating the disease.

The only way to make a real impact is to address problems at their source and get a message out that will cause companies and their customers to truly change their ways of thinking – and acting.

As sustainability leaders we need to stop limiting ourselves. Our budgets may be small, but there is no need for our thinking to be.



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Posted on

February 2, 2016

About the Author

Matt Brass

Matt Brass

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing all campaigns and collateral. With nearly two decades of marketing design under his belt, Matt has extensive experience in design, photography and videography, as well as blogging about the latest and greatest (or worst) ad campaigns out there. He leads our team on kayaking trips, too.

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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Courtnay Hamachek

VP Operations

Courtnay oversees our day-to-day operations to keep us running smoothly and support our growth. She establishes project management systems and processes to help our teams anticipate bottlenecks, prevent process issues, and keep projects on time and on target. Courtnay has built extensive experience over 25 years in all aspects of marketing, from account services and project management to design and production.

Aaron Crecy

Digital Marketing Director

Aaron is responsible for planning, executing and measuring digital marketing strategies for Shelton Group and our clients, with an emphasis on inbound, content, SEO, social media, email and paid initiatives. He constantly researches and explores new tactics and strategies to improve digital campaign performance and results.

Aaron brings to the table more than 20 years of marketing leadership experience with premium consumer-facing brands. He came to Shelton Group by way of Malibu Boats, where, as Director of Global Marketing, he oversaw strategic marketing planning and execution for multiple product lines, with specific emphasis on social media and digital. Prior to that, he served as CMO for a leading daily fantasy sports operator, guiding it from startup to the industry’s third-ranked site.