Opinion: Perspecitve - The green lobby is adland's latest battleground

The ad industry is used to enemy fire: first obesity and binge-drinking, now the green lobbyists are baring their teeth.

Environmental warnings on car advertising and air travel are on the agenda, of course. And last weekend's news that the world's glaciers are melting faster than at any time in recorded history will add fuel.

Fortunately, green is an issue adland has been riding for a while now. Look out for our feature in next week's issue on Getting To Grips With Green (does your agency make the green grade?).

Remember when we all sniggered at St Luke's for doing the first carbon-neutral ad? Ah, how far ad agencies have come since then; being green is no longer a badge of honour, it's an imperative.

Anyway, now COI is planning to enshrine environmentally friendly working practices in new best-practice guidelines. The guide will help shape COI's own agency roster and ensure that the Government's communications suppliers pass the green test. If your agency doesn't meet recycling or off-setting standards, there'll be little chance of getting a sniff of government business.

COI already has best-practice rules in place for its DM communications; extending the principle to all its communications suppliers is an obvious initiative, though I suspect that most agencies are already set up to meet the basic requirements.

Next up, though, we need new standards on how the industry advertises green messages. The trouble is that the environment has become such a speeding bandwagon that advertisers are leaping thoughtlessly aboard. So over at ISBA, there's a focus on advertisers whose campaigns fall foul of greenwashing and unsubstantiated green claims.

If you thought that the greenwashing issue is exaggerated, consider how many times you've seen the following images in advertising: polar bears on ice caps; flowers; children playing; exotic animals; blue skies and green fields. Oh, I know they've all been staples of advertising since dawn, but they're increasingly being appropriated by unlikely brands for environmentally friendly credentials.

So polar bears have been popular with Ariel, HSBC and Philips recently. Toyota and Volkswagen have used flowers. Philips and B&Q have used romping kids. HSBC and E.ON have used exotic animals, and so on.

The fact that so many big advertisers are resorting to such cliched and lazy imagery - perhaps to mask the lack of a concrete, demonstrable environmental policy - means consumers are more likely to simply switch off. And the danger with that is that some really important messages get lost along the way. Cliches and lazy shorthands are nothing new in advertising, of course, and they can work. But with advertising under attack on so many fronts, the green issue is one area where the industry has the chance to demonstrate its power to make dramatic and positive change.

Now agencies have got their own green acts together, it's time to tighten up the ads themselves. Because the last thing adland needs now is to invite attack for its careless handling of environmental claims.

Publicis Groupe has finally decided to band together the buying muscle of its Starcom and ZenithOptimedia brands. It's about time. All of its competitors have been doing it for years - though not all have been doing it well.

Even now, the arrival of Publicis Groupe Media is so soft it's not obvious where the bite is. The company won't say that PGM will handle negotiations for any client other than BT, although of course it will (if I was a Starcom or Zenith client, I'd be wondering why they weren't offering me this elite new service immediately).

The initiative will, no doubt, serve clients very well, but only once everyone involved finds the balls to really get on with it.

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