digital marketing

CSR: a survival guide for the depressed responsible marketer

How can a responsible marketer survive when the world around us is crumbling? Or at least when experts are telling you that it is. Three years to the day, the French association of marketers Adetem asked Visionary Marketing to join its CSR responsible marketing initiative, and naturally we welcomed the opportunity. That almost seemed natural to us. However, things aren’t that simple and many questions remain. Here are our thoughts on the subject even though there are more questions than answers. Our underlying goal is to encourage marketers (and salespeople) to question and reflect on their practices and how they should behave professionally at a time when society as a whole is torn on these issues, particularly environmental ones. It seems to us more suitable than developing an ideological pitch and demanding that facts match reality.

Tips for the Depressed Responsible Marketer

responsible marketer
The responsible marketer is sure of his commitment, but is it effective? The key is not to get depressed and to stay the course – image made with Midjourney.

This survival guide for depressed responsible marketers was written for some reason. Let me tell you an anecdote

Anecdote: An Eco-Distressed Responsible Marketer

One day, I met a colleague and friend who is a digital marketing expert. He was deeply concerned by recent developments in climate change (not to be confused with global warming). His wife had just given birth to a baby and he was devastated by “the world we would be leaving behind to our children”. I sensed that he was about to snap, so I reassured him and advised him to take the edge off. His eco-anxiety (the word hadn’t been invented back then) was probably not going to do much good, and even less so for his child, who would probably be in need of trust, encouragement and a positive outlook.

And yet, six or seven years later, I’m reminded of this anecdote as a COP28 conference, led by an oil tycoon and carrying the hopes of many, has just drawn to a close. Same old song and dance, the following IPCC get-together will take place in Azerbaijan and will be led by an ex-marketeer from the oil industry! Worse still, I learned recently that one of the flagship organisations that gave birth to the IPCC was also founded and run by a Canadian oil investor (check Maurice Strong’s bio).

Depressed marketer
Eco-responsibility in marketing is a bit like the rearrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic — image produced with Midjourney

More depressing news for you

To this one could add many other depressing events or books (from Vaclav Smil to James Hansen and Antoine Bueno [Fr] through to Jean-Baptiste Fressoz [Fr]). All that shows we might well hit the wall of climate change soon. French Energy expert Fressoz states, there is no such thing as energy transitions for instance. Smil had highlighted the energy transition issue as early as 2010. To top it all, there is no such thing as “peak oil”. Two mining experts from France, warned us about the surfeit of oil reserves on the planet [Fr]. There is no dearth of oil sorry, we’re in for trouble for very much longer I’m afraid.

Worse still, there was this talk we gave in Tunisia. While around a hundred marketers flocked to the workshops dedicated to AI, digital marketing or agility in product marketing, the breakout session dedicated to responsible marketing was attended by two participants, one of which was a student.

(Ir) responsible salespeople and marketers

We could add to the list. There are many examples of irresponsible marketers and salespeople, such as door-to-door sellers who try to take advantage of the elderly by getting them to sign contracts when they don’t even realise it (real-life experience), or phone spammers, email or LinkedIn scammers. All those people are determined to make you like hellish. Laws and regulations are piling up but to no avail. Complaints and technical devices aimed at protecting you don’t seem to have that much of an effect either. Marketing and sales professionals have always been familiar with these fishy practices. Those who behave in this way are a disgrace to our profession and, sadly, they are often held up as an example of ‘success’. Think about growth hackers for instance. Nauseating.

My Brompton P series above the Sea, a stone’s throw from Sword Beach where British forces first landed 80 years ago. I ride 3,000 miles per annum and I’ve covered at least 20,000 miles in the past six years inclusive of client visits et al. But is it sufficient? I doubt it. In the background, a Brittany Ferries ship on its way to Portsmouth. Brittany Ferries was founded by Alexis Gourvennec whose Father was an Onion Johnny

Questions responsible marketers may have

All this leads sincere responsible marketers to ask many questions at a time when societal and environmental issues can no longer be ignored.

Am I setting an example? How can I contribute to improving things? Above all, how can I avoid working to make them worse than they already are? Is a responsible marketing framework sufficient? Should I sell or ask people not to buy any more or rather, not so much? Fight against Primark, Shein and Temu? And if so, how can I do so when the basics of sales and marketing are advocating the opposite? Will I, as a responsible marketer who sells less, be promoted or demoted? Answering these questions is probably not that simple. But we may still surmise, perhaps rightfully, that making efforts, however small, is better than doing nothing.

Should a responsible marketer give up hope?

But let’s return to the anecdote I quoted above. Should a responsible marketer – or one on the way to becoming one – despair?

Should she be overwhelmed by this seemingly unattainable goal? Must she fight greenwashing and illusory transitions? Should she avoid working with unethical companies, those from the coal, oil, tobacco and alcohol and spirits sectors, those promoting addictive substances or contributing to the destruction of natural resources, that resort to modern slavery, that sell you nitrites or make you drink plastic waste, eat pesticides or contribute to the growth of green algae to the point of suffocating the beautiful shores of Brittany…? The list is almost endless, and it’s getting longer every day.

The responsible marketer, however, has no right to be depressed.

  • Firstly, because it’s pointless.
  • Then, because while she may be “responsible”, she may not necessarily be guilty. She must constantly question her practices and make efforts not to take the easy way out. She must also try and convince those around her.
  • Thirdly, because she must not waste time trying to convert zealots. Let them surrender or commit suicide when they will be surrounded (as at Masada).
  • Finally, because it’s not possible to think that you can be held accountable for all the world’s misfortunes if you can’t solve them. That’s putting too much pressure on yourself. At the end of the day, a depressed marketer will never be able to improve the situation.

A weak but necessary survival guide

Such is my survival guide. It’s very weak, I readily admit to it. But at the same time it will allow you to live better and at peace with yourself. It will also enable us to try and improve things as we best can. No more, no less. It’s easier when you are a content marketer than a marketer for the Royal Dutch-Shell company, though, I’m aware of these limitations. There aren’t many chances of result either, I know that too.

On the environmental front, the situation seems, if not hopeless, at least quite serious. So let’s hope, with Smil that there is no guarantee that this will be the end of the world and that humans are incapable of predicting the future. Both statements are probably both right.

Assuming Smil is right, whatever good practices responsible marketers have put in place will always be a means to change the world for the better. We can live with that.

Yann Gourvennec
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Yann Gourvennec

Yann Gourvennec created in 1996. He is a speaker and author of 6 books. In 2014 he went from intrapreneur to entrepreneur, when he created his digital marketing agency. ———————————————————— Yann Gourvennec a créé en 1996. Il est conférencier et auteur de 6 livres. En 2014, il est passé d'intrapreneur à entrepreneur en créant son agence de marketing numérique. More »


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