New research from WFA analyzes the MEA region's progress on the sustainability front.
Multiple studies in the past couple of years have sent a clear message to marketers about the consumer's passion for sustainability and the pandemic has only served to strengthen people’s convictions. The vast majority of younger consumers intend to make changes in their personal habits in order to minimize their carbon footprint. For their part, global marketers generally acknowledge consumers’ expectations regarding sustainability. Yet worryingly, more than 40% of marketers feel that brands are actually making it harder for them to act sustainably. This may well be tied to perceptions of marketing as a driver of consumption – and thus part of the problem, rather than a force for good
Which is why the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has partnered with Project17, the communications unit centered on the United Nations and Global Goals and behavioural change experts, BVA Nudge Unit, to conduct a study that explores the challenges marketers are facing in this space and how best to address them. The findings are based on in-depth qualitative Interviews with 13 global Chief Marketing Officers as well as a quantitative survey run in conjunction with National Advertiser Associations with responses from more than 650 marketers in 34 markets around the world, including a wide mix of geographies, company sizes and categories.
Communicate will be putting a spotlight on the findings from the MEA region and comparing it to the global findings.
In the MEA region, sustainability is about minimizing the impact on the planet and the environment to have a more sustainable future. For 53% of marketers, sustainability is connected with environmental impacts while only 23% consider it as a business strategy.
When it comes to the sustainability maturity journey, the MEA region is progressing well. Even from a marketing standpoint, the sustainability journey seems to be more progressed than globally.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a galvanizing force in the world's sustainability efforts. There are 17 SDGs and 80% of marketers reported taking actions tied specifically to these goals, with the top goals being Gender equality (Goal 5) and Good health and well-being (Goal 3).
In the MEA region, the numbers are similar with the top priority given to Gender equality (Goal 5) and Good health and well-being (Goal 3) [ 68% and 58% respectively] at an organizational level. At a marketing level, the priority is given towards Responsible consumption and production (Goal 12) and Good health and well-being (Goal 3) [ 39% and 38% respectively]
Looking at the data, there is a considerable gap between organisational and marketing levels in the region, with the biggest difference being on SDG 5 - Gender equality (68% vs 35%) and SDG 7 - Affordable and clean energy (44% vs 11%).
There is a universal agreement among senior marketers in the region that marketing can make a difference and this is in line with the global viewpoint. 94% of MEA marketers believe that a complete rethink of consumption is needed. To do this, a sustainability strategy needs to come into place and the main actors involved in shaping an effective strategy are the Board, Comms/ PR and CEO.
The study has given four sugesstions based on the responses from MEA marketers on how to improve the sustainability strategy.
Integrate the sustainability goals into brand/ corporate strategy.
Engaging all departments/teams to implement the strategy.
Integrate the sustainability goals into the marketing strategy.
Embed sustainability in brand/marketing communications.
On top of these strategies, 3 out of 10 marketers believe having a Chief Sustainability Officer in place that reports to the CEO is also essential.
Commitment from senior leadership and storytelling are considered important aspects in the sustainability practices of an organization. According to data from the study, compared to global, MEA marketers are confident in the commitment on these aspects and are performing above average. Education both internally and for an organization's customers and innovation are two aspects where there's opportunity for improvement. Currently, MEA marketers feel they are underperforming and this is in tune with the global sentiment as well.
From a Communication perspective, there's a strong belief in the region that sustainability is a business strategy and not a comms agenda (93% as opposed to 92% globally). Brands must educate consumers on their power by giving them the choice to buy sustainable products. Greenwashing is a communication and marketing strategy adopted by companies or other organizations. It consists in putting forward ecological arguments in order to forge an ecologically responsible image among the public. In the region, there is a lower fear of being perceived of creating 'greenwashing' communication in comparison with the global findings (55% - 67%)
In the region, when it comes to partnerships that help accelerate the sustainability agenda, partnering with agencies, industry wide initiatives and government are the options most currently preferred. The study also noted significantly less intention to partner with agencies in the future and a higher appeal to deal with other brands.
Marketers are in agreement that consumers expect brands to help improve the environment and want brands to help them be more environmentally friendly. To be in line with these expectations, the region's marketers are focused on having more internal commitments to influence consumers and for sustainable-oriented advertising.