Commentary by Tim Stübane W&V

Agencies that advertise brands that do not live up to their environmental and social responsibilities are coming under increasing pressure. In some cases, they are even being publicly denounced. But is that fair? Tim Stübane, co-founder of The Goodwins comments.

We are only beginning to see the effects of climate change, which are already proving to be devastating. We all know what a huge effort it will take to transform our societies and economies to get even a little bit closer to a more carbon-neutral life. There are huge tasks ahead of us, where even small things count, such as the economical shower heads recently mentioned by Economics Minister Habeck. Everything counts! Everything that makes the world a little more livable. Can it make any difference how we behave as agencies? Which clients we work for or not?


In our current climate situation, it no longer matters how a company behaves. Whether it continues to fuel climate change or tries to limit the damage. In this respect, of course, it can no longer matter what we in the agencies do for our clients. Obviously.


The current brandalism attack is on agencies that work for polluting companies. Next time, however, it could hit agencies that indirectly promote social ills through their engagements. Agencies should therefore act holistically - both ecologically and socially. If only out of self-interest, in order to be able to compete for talent. After all, this is the only way we will ever be able to attract good employees and young talent to agency life. That’s why it doesn’t matter who or what we advertise. It is our corporate as well as social and ecological responsibility that we have to fulfil.


Ultimately, of course, anyone can advertise for the companies they want. Everyone has a different conscience: Some don’t mind working for companies that have a negative impact on the environment and society, others can’t handle that. Everyone decides for themselves himself what he considers meaningful or not. Whether you want to waste your life’s energy and creativity for airlines, combustion engine cars or the arms industry, just to name a few examples. The important thing is to be aware that this is not a decision we make for ourselves, but for millions of others whom we influence through our communication.

Peter Hammer’s comment in W&V on the recent attacs on brandalism: “It has never been the right approach to condemn the bearer of a supposedly or actually problematic message” is, in my view, completely wrong in this case because it is not applicable. We are not “messengers” of pure information, but developers of clever strategies and ideas to make brands look special and to seduce people. In this case, agencies are accomplices. They are complicit if, for example, a company causes more climate damage or creates more inhumane jobs as a result of their services. In this respect, agencies must also face the ever-increasing criticism that their clients are also subject to.


Maybe it’s utopian, but what if the smartest, most thoughtful people in our profession stayed away from environmentally destructive companies and their projects? Someone will still do the work, of course. But no longer with the outstanding quality, no longer with the economic success and consequently no longer with the negative impact on the environment and society. Companies with lousy products would get the communication they deserve.


One can certainly argue about brandalism as a form of communication. But I think it’s necessary and overdue that agencies stop playing hide-and-seek and disclose their commitments, that they be named.


Of course, this creates new challenges for agencies. Ethics are becoming much more important in the agency world. The existing system is being scrutinized, weaknesses are being exposed and rigidities are being broken down. Brandalism is just one factor here; others are evaluation platforms like Kununu or initiatives like the Ad Girls Club, which are shaking us up, pointing out and denouncing abuses, so that the world can become a little better.


This is a good development that will be unstoppable. It will be exciting to see how fast the change happens - and who actively shapes or resists it.


Tim Stübane is co-founder and managing director of the creative agency The Goodwins, “which makes the good successful.” Accordingly, the agency works with companies and organizations that act in an ecologically or socially sustainable manner. Tim is one of Germany’s most renowned and award-winning creatives. He is all about using creative excellence to inspire people for good. He was previously co-founder and managing director of Ogilvy Berlin, and before that worked at DDB, Jung von Matt and Scholz & Friends. Tim lives in Berlin with his family.