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 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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