Editorial: Truths and consequences

Just when you reach the point where you believe something to be unquestionably true, someone comes along and questions it. Take Father Christmas. For many years I have been entertaining commercially naive infants and oldies alike at yuletide with the tale of how Coca-Cola invented the modern-day image of Santa Claus, back in 1931.

This year, I imagine they will be crestfallen to learn that the honour of appropriating Santa for commercial gain does not actually belong to Coke, but to another US soft-drinks company called White Rock, which first featured Santa in one of its ads in 1915.

White Rock is debunking the myth in time for the holidays and Coke's 75th year of exploiting Santa celebrations, just to ensure it gains valuable column inches such as these. Well, Merry Christmas White Rock, and may your new year bring double-digit brand-awareness figures.

My own 'marketing moment' of 2006 has been climate change - not simply that it is happening, nor indeed that Sir Nicholas Stern's report last month highlighted the dangers, but that the past 12 months have seen a change in public attitude toward the threat and willingness to do something about it.

The thing about real, attitude-shifting social change is that it is impossible to isolate the particular moment when it began. In the case of carbon emissions and their impact, there have been a host of smaller moments, leading or reacting to (again it is impossible to tell which) a groundswell in public opinion.

The Stern Report, and then last week's coming together of leading British brands and Tony Blair under the Climate Group, were two of the biggest action-on-the-environment stories of a year in which there has been a constant flow of news on companies addressing energy efficiency in their communications or going carbon-neutral.

Then along come a bunch of miserable ecologists telling us that planting trees to save the planet is pointless. You may think I exaggerate, but the co-author of the report, Professor Ken Caldeira, says: 'The idea that you can go out and plant a tree to help reverse global warming is an appealing, feel-good thing. To plant forests to mitigate climate change outside of the tropics is a waste of time.' Well, thanks very much.

Of course, the professor is only confirming what common sense tells us to be true: that the only way to reduce emissions is actually to reduce emissions, not to try to counterbalance the effect by less painful means. It is the environmental equivalent of trying to fight the childhood obesity epidemic by not letting children see pictures of unhealthy food on the telly.

There is a serious point to this, which is that the 'carbon-neutral' tag being pursued by so many companies may now swiftly lose credibility, and the stakes in reducing carbon emissions will be raised. There are many companies, including Tesco and Virgin, going much further than mere carbon-offsetting, and in 2007, theirs will be the lead to follow.

If, as has seemed the case in 2006, the public are becoming more environmentally active, it could manifest itself in a challenge to their own consumerism or, more likely, to your environmental credibility.


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