Friday 5: Five Future Gazing Stories That Have Brightened Our Outlook This Week

Our work with OMG and Hearts & Science over the past few weeks has focused our minds firmly on sustainability. In this week’s ‘Friday 5’, eternal optimist Andy Riley looks at the latest developments that suggest that perhaps the future doesn’t have to be entirely awful…


  • The UK govt is updating our infrastructure for electric cars: It’s nine years and counting until the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles comes into force. The Transport Select Committee is now advising on how to make greener cars a viable option for everyone.

Why should I care?

The banning of the sales of new vehicles running on fossil fuels in 2030 will go some way to meeting the government’s climate targets. However, it will go a long way to helping us breathe easier. So, what’s not to like? Well, the cost of buying an electric car and where all the extra electricity needed will come from aside, there’s first the small matter of the running costs. 

In theory, a big selling point for electric vehicles is they are not prone to the volatility of the oil markets and should thus be far cheaper to run long-term. However, how much it costs to charge your car depends entirely on whether you are able to use your own electricity supply, or have to make do with a public charging point. 

30% of car owners don’t have access to off-road parking on their own property and are thus at the mercy of an entirely unregulated market for public charging. This puts a financial burden on green-minded citizens who don’t have the option to charge up at home. Typically, it’s those living in low-income areas, and particularly in rural locations, that are hit hardest. 

To avoid a two-tier market, the Transport Select Committee advises a priority for the industry is to set transparent pricing structures for public charging stations. It suggests behaviour change is another key consideration. It will be necessary to get consumers out of the mindset of ‘filling up the tank’ to reduce the pressure on the National Grid during peak hours. Instead, the Committee advocates a “little but often” approach. 

However, some MPs have raised concerns over the potential for the lights to go off in some parts of the country. Therefore the government is working with the National Grid to map out where additional capacity is needed to support the faster roll-out of national charging infrastructures. You could say, the wheels are in motion.  


  • Philip Morris wants to ban cigarettes: Yes, you read that right. The Marlboro Man, or at least CEO Jacek Olczak, wants the UK government to ban the sale of ciggies within a decade – so it’s not just petrol cars that could be consigned to history in the 2030s.

Why should I care?

This unlikely call to action comes as Philip Morris is trying to reposition itself as a healthcare and wellness business. Again, you read that right. It’s putting its money where its mouth is too with the £1bn acquisition of Vectura, a UK pharma firm that makes asthma inhalers. In fact, Olczak wants to see half of its revenues come from non-smoking products and the company has recalibrated its brand purpose to ‘unsmoke the world’.

The cynic in me has to wonder if this mission is in any way guided by the fact that cigarette sales have been declining at a rate of 20 million per month in the wake of the new taxation and standardised packaging introduced in 2016? 

Either way, Philip Morris has no interest in seeing a ban on nicotine full-stop and will continue to sell smokeless alternatives such as vapes and e-cigarettes. A ban on a delivery system that removes carcinogenic by-products such as tar can only be a good thing for our nation’s health – and for the NHS.  


  • Conscious consumerism is on the rise: A new study by Velvet client Hearts & Science reveals over half (52%) of UK consumers are making purchase decisions based on brands’ eco-credentials. Moreover, a fifth (21%) will stop buying from particular brands if they have concerns over their record on sustainability, these attitudes are most prevalent in FMCG categories – food and drink (36%) and home essentials (33%).

Why should I care?

Brand owners for one should pay close attention to this and there’s no place for lip-service, conscious consumers want to see the evidence that brands are doing the right thing on sustainability. 

The other point to bear in mind is that while 52% are thinking about how ‘green’ their preferred brands are, that leaves another half that aren’t. It’s like Brexit all over again… But let’s leave that comparison there! 

Thankfully Omnicon has gone all-out to offer some potential solutions this month…

The Hearts & Science ‘Forces of Change: Conscious Consumerism’ White Paper is free to download and outlines what the barriers are to consumers making eco-friendly purchases. Hearts worked with acclaimed behavioural scientist Richard Shotton to identify seven eco-nudges brands can employ to encourage all shoppers to make the right choices, regardless of their stance on sustainability.

Elsewhere in the network, Omnicom’s resident futurist, Phil Rowley, has released his latest e-book, ‘Hit the Switch: The Future of Sustainable Business’ – also free to download. Phil sets out the ‘5 x Ps of Sustainability’, comms principles that can be coupled with OMG’s proprietary Sustainability Framework to guide customer-facing brands through using their marketing budgets to encourage less wasteful patterns of consumption – and, crucially – without any associated ‘Green guilt’.

While it’s excellent news that more consumers are thinking about how they can make responsible choices, preaching to the converted isn’t the problem. The trick is to convince the climate sceptics to change their behaviours – whether that’s conscious or not. 

In very real terms there’s only so much national governments can do to address climate change – to put this into perspective, the UK has only set aside £134m to “build back greener” post COVID. Climate change is an existential threat, so it’s in the interests of big business to shoulder greater responsibility to make a positive difference and position ‘green’ as the norm. 


  • Online Safety Bill to take on the trolls: Racist online trolls reared their ugly heads again in the fallout of England’s EUFA ‘2020’ bid. The social networks did their best to contain the worst of it but found their Achilles heel to be their collective inability to police Emojis. Luckily noted non-racist Boris Johnson was on hand to take the social media giants to task armed with the draft Online Safety Bill, which is set to be formally introduced by the end of the year.

Why should I care?

As I’ve previously noted the Online Safety Bill failed to keep everyone happy – but what legislation does? While the PM’s meeting with the social networks was just that, it’s a small step towards managing online bullying. When the Bill comes into force, it will give the government some teeth in dealing with the digital giants. It places a legal duty of care on them to protect UK users – significant fines that can be imposed on those that fail to do so. 

As yet, the UK govt is not in position to see this threat through but it underlines any conversation. Hopefully, the prospect of losing up to 10% of global revenues will finally convince the social networks to ramp up their own anti-bullying policies and monitoring algorithms. 


  • And finally – speaking of trolls…: It turns out that all those conspiracy theories about COVID-19 disinformation being spread over social channels by nefarious ‘foreign powers’ remain just that. A report from the Centre for Countering Online Hate found that 65% of all COVID misinformation and 73% of all anti-vaxxer content stems from just 12 people. And who are these sinister agents? Well, the ‘disinformation dozen’ are actually a motley crew including pseudo-science spouting physicians, a religious zealot, a body builder and JFK’s nephew…

Why should I care?

If you ever want a case study in the risks of disaffected people talking bollocks on the internet, then this is it. It seems a little attention can be a dangerous thing and the accounts of these 12 people preaching to their echo chambers managed to amass a collective social media following of 59 million. 

What’s equally scary is the volume of ‘fake news’ (to coin a phrase) these people churn out. The 65% and 73% stats cited relate to a total of 812,000 posts analysed across Facebook and Twitter. 

Even when the ‘disinformation dozen’ were unmasked by the report only one, Robert F. Kennedy Jnr. was removed from Instagram. He’s still free to link vaccines to autism on Facebook. Digital freedom of speech is a really difficult area of course and we should all be able to voice our opinion, but what’s worrying is so many seem unable, or unwilling to distinguish opinion from fact.   

Now here’s the really disturbing bit, 95% of all COVID-19 misinformation is not removed by the social networks.

Still, I suppose we should all find some relief in the fact that in revealing the ‘disinformation dozen’ we learn there is no international conspiracy… Or is that what they want us to believe?