This month’s big question has been posed and answered by Ian Bates, Founder and Creative Partner of Firehaus. He’s been in the advertising/marketing industry longer than his skin may betray (his words not mine). He’s helped found, establish and lead agencies – from independents to groups. These have largely been at the intersection of data and creative.

Annabel Dunstan commented: “I hope you are as moved and inspired by this post as I was when it first landed in my inbox.  It’s a punchy read and is a clear message to all communicators, creatives, marketeers and leaders to use our skills wisely and to be a force for good.  Take a deep breath and read on…”

Q. Am I the problem?

I don’t have an answer to this question.


Maybe you can help.

Because it may be a question you’ve asked yourself.

When I put my marketer and marker pens to bed at night the question returns.

‘Am I the problem when it comes to the climate crisis?’

The Covid wave currently engulfs us.

But ultimately, we know how to survive.

The Brexit wave is coming.

Richer or poorer we’ll survive.

But the biggest wave started decades ago.

And that Tsunami is still coming straight for us.

Climate change.

We caused it and we know how to stop it.

We just haven’t.


Like you I’m sure, I do my bit to try and make a difference.

But is it enough?

I work in an industry predicated on creating demand.

More, more, more.

Oversupply in pretty much every category.

Choice paralysis.

‘You bought one last year/last week/yesterday, but now you need another one/two/three.’

Of course trade is an honourable endeavour.

As old as history itself.

And marketing by extension isn’t evil – showing goods and services in their best light to the people most likely to buy them.

Perfectly reasonable.

But marketing is a significant cog in a commercial machine that was perhaps unconsciously destructive and is now more clearly unsustainable in its current form.

And the word marketers use to describe fellow human beings?


There’s a problem right there.

Not people.


I hate that word.

Perhaps this de-personalisation protects us from reality.

The industrialisation of demand creation over time feeding dissatisfaction and insecurity with what we have, where we go, who we’re with.

Fundamentally, who we are.

Anesthetising us from what we need with what we want.

As if the best measure of our existence is what and how much we ‘consume’.

‘Those guys in the 21st century were great consumers.’

I’m complicit because a key part of my job is to create demand.

But our marketing cog is integrated into the heart of the demand creating machine.

Weirdly it even appears to make us ill.

The Drum reported that ‘92% of people in agencies have suffered with mental health issues, compared to 62% of the wider population’.1

At the same time, we’re destroying trust with the very people we’re selling to with Kantar reporting ‘…consumers (that word!) are suffering from ad fatigue, with bombardment and oversaturation putting the UK ad industry at risk’.2

Maybe up to 1 billion people using ad blockers.

We seem destined to keep the machine turning until we retire, or the wheels fall off the planet.

You could suggest I have a defence.

That my cog is driven by others.

But it’s not a sustainable excuse.

We talk about value creation.

Building valuable brands and businesses.

I love doing that.

But what value am I creating?

And for who and at what cost?

For too long the only value that’s mattered is profit.

A one trick pony.

If I step off the hamster wheel and ponder what I actually value, more things come to mind. 





Secure communities.

Social mobility.

Fairer societies.


But they increasingly exist in a new context – climate change.

The setting for all stories.3

We could create so much more value if we wanted to value more things.

It appears Shared Value as a business strategy is on the road to offering robust commercial measurement.

Although it’s not a movement without controversy.

Which leads us to purpose.

The reason why businesses and brands exist.

And my purpose in it.

Grassroots activism around climate change has been with us for decades through a variety of NFPs, and more recently Extinction Rebellion.

But increased focus is being given to corporate purpose beyond profit by those previously driving the ‘profit-only’ machine.

Leadership is coming from what might have seemd like unlikely sources – such as BlackRock4, Astrazeneca5 and Unilever6.

Normalising what was portrayed as extreme, even in the recent past.

Professor Colin Meyer, along with others via the British Academy, has made a significant contribution by creating a concise articulation for corporate purpose.

‘To profitably solve problems for people and planet, and avoid profiting from creating problems for people and planet.’

Put like that perhaps I can help.

Governments can lead by creating the conditions for change through policy and legislation, caring for the community – the whole.

I can demand that.

Business can share in this effort by aligning their goals and thereby release vast reserves of untapped human capital.

Innovation, adaptability and resilience that’s currently locked away in their people and culture.

I can demand that.

And yes, it could lead to competitive advantage and profit.

But not at the expense of people or the planet.

A rebirth of creativity through purpose, people and culture for good.

International, national and local policy makers, business leaders, investors, shareholders, lawyers, community groups and rest have a role to play.

And marketers.

Where do we fit in?

The communicators


Behaviour changers.

Strategists, creatives, data scientists.

The weavers of logic and magic.

The people who know how to move people.

Initiatives are out there, like The Great Reset, both the World Economic Forum and Purpose Disruptors versions.

Maybe I can change the machine from the inside.

My cog among thousands of others.

How many need to change before the machine moves into a different gear.

Creating a more progressive form of demand.

Valuing more than profit.

Rewarding more than value extraction.

Covid is a wake up call.

The initial response was a sense of urgency and unity of purpose – for the first time in a long time.

Brexit … who knows.

But the climate change tsunami is still coming.

How will marketers respond?

Wait to be told what they have to do?

Or drive the change?

Am I the problem?

Or the solution.