Opinion: Brands jostle for attention at Copenhagen climate change summit

COPENHAGEN - The past fortnight saw global attention focused firmly on Copenhagen, as the Danish capital played host to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15).

On the ground, COP15 was very much a ‘tale of two summits' - whilst media attention focused on the political wrangling taking place behind closed doors, there was also the vast fringe conference, where a multitude of NGOs, lobbyists, activists and corporates jostled for attention against the backdrop of UN negotiations.

COP15's importance stretches way beyond marketing, obviously. That said, both in the run-up, and on the ground itself, it was interesting to note the contrasting tactics used by different concerns to engage their audience.  The Hopenhagen  campaign leveraged a powerful alliance of corporate and NGO concerns to generate support, for example, whilst grassroots led 350.org staged its own series of eye-catching stunts.

Come COP15 itself, a similarly contrasting range of marketing approaches was evident. Technology giants leveraged IT to create experiential exhibits - Google's pavilion occupied pole position inside the Bella Centre, whilst the HP-sponsored ‘UN Climate Wall' displayed video clips from world leaders.

In advertising terms, Greenpeace deserves credit for its billboards showing ‘aged' world leaders including Obama, Brown and Sarkozy looking back on COP15 with regret at not having secured a binding deal. Deployed both in Copenhagen and across other world cities, these striking images generated widespread coverage.

Others took a less sophisticated approach, appearing to view COP15 as just another tradeshow. Coca-Cola had seemingly block-booked every billboard in Copenhagen - a strategy that backfired, as protestors questioned the company's environmental stance. Renault's promotion of electric cars that aren't actually available yet also raised sceptical eyebrows. Wind energy firm Vestas' striking installation of a giant turbine blade outside the conference venue was more positively received.

Looking forward, COP15 raises other important points, as brands refine communications and sustainability strategies for 2010.  Irrespective of political implications - and let's hope these are far-reaching - it seems clear that, as corporations review their environmental efforts, so we'll see a transition away from questionable defensive tactics and a renewed emphasis on transparency, accountability and tangible action on specific issues of concern such as deforestation and marine stewardship. 

With a binding international agreement looking increasingly unlikely at the time of writing, the political legacy of Copenhagen remains to be seen.  Indeed, it seems the marketing lessons will be learnt long before the environment sees any tangible benefits from international political action.

Dr. Arlo Brady, Board Director - Sustainability Practice, freud communications





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