The Greenpeace activist and previous Cannes Lions winner Gustav Martner staged a high-profile demonstration during the festival’s opening ceremony on Monday (June 20), protesting the industry’s habit of working with fossil fuel and high carbon clients. The Drum catches up with him about his drastic action.
Gustav Martner, who was formerly chairman of the Swedish Advertising Association and the executive creative director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky Europe, says the adland’s love affair with polluters is ”suicidal”.
Gustav Martner is a former Cannes Lions winner and juror/ Image via Greenpeace France
But, he tells The Drum, the industry is capable of change. “No one in the industry today would be excited at the prospect of working with a tobacco client… Cannes Lions claims to be the home of creativity, but I’m here to say there’s no creativity on a dead planet.”
Martner, who is a previous Cannes Lions winner and juror, is speaking after staging a protest against advertisers that spread climate misinformation. His winning work was actually for the type of clients he is now protesting. “I won my first Lion for Volkswagen, four days before the diesel-gate scandal broke. It was a wake-up call when I realized the part I had to play in selling those cars.”
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The festival is no stranger to such protests. Extinction Rebellion made a big splash in 2019 and faced hostility from police. This latest peaceful protest comes as 40 organizations push a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) petition, calling for a new law that bans fossil fuel advertising and sponsorship in the EU.
Martner says that, as early as 2008, other clients he worked with in high-carbon industries, such as airlines, recognized they needed to shift their business models in order to address emissions. “I believed that politicians would take measures on things like domestic travel and my clients believed it too, that we needed to prepare.”
Yet the regulations never came. Instead, he says, he was briefed to create “an emotionally charged ad that would encourage people to save 30 minutes by flying instead of traveling by rail”. It was, for him, the final straw.
“The heads of the holding companies, that sit on the boards of the trade bodies, say they want to be on the right side of history but they are not vocal inside the walls.“
The banner that Martner unfurled on stage at last night’s ceremony, with the eyes of the industry upon him, read ’No awards on a dead planet, Ban Fossil Ads!’ He says he wants the industry to address its complicity in the climate crisis by refusing to work with fossil fuel clients, adding that regulation will soon catch up either way.
This year, for the first time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report exposed the role of PR and advertising in fuelling the climate crisis, while hundreds of scientists signed a letter calling on public relations and advertising agencies to stop working with fossil fuel companies and spreading climate disinformation.
Martner says that if advertising as an industry is to survive into the future, it must move with the times. “We have a brain drain in the industry right now. Young and progressive people don’t want to work in advertising any more because they see it as being on the wrong side of history.
“It’s this short-term thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. Those at the top are short-sighted, they only care about turning a profit next month and not in 10 years.”
As Martner’s banner highlights, however, time is ticking to halt the earth’s warming before climate change causes irreversible damage to the planet and its population – agencies won’t be around to turn a profit, let alone win awards, if the industry fails to take action.
Those interested in joining the European Citizens Initiative to ban fossil fuel advertising and sponsorship can do so here.