The brightest lights in the advertising business are gathering in Cannes, France, this week for an annual celebration of the art of persuading consumers to part with their money. In the industry's biggest international get-together, awards will be given for the best ads for products like cars, clothing, food and air travel.
And then, on 22 June, Al Gore will come to town.
Gore is scheduled to address the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival as part of the windup leading to the Live Earth concerts on 7 July, which are intended to raise awareness of the issue of climate change.
You might think that Gore and his campaign against global warming would find few friends in Cannes. The production, transport, sale and consumption of goods and services add a few sizes to anyone's carbon footprint.
Yet Gore is being accorded rock star status at the festival, an event that in the past has been headlined by industry insiders. The embrace of Gore shows how "green" advertising has galvanized the marketing community.
"The consumer sentiment out there is just palpable," said Hamish McLennan, chief executive of Young & Rubicam, the advertising agency that arranged Gore's visit to Cannes and helped him to develop the "Save Our Selves" campaign for environmental awareness. "We have to change the way people consume and get people to think about it."
Not long ago, it seemed, only oil companies touted their environmental credentials via big-budget advertising campaigns. But now green advertising is everywhere. Even as the advertising industry was packing its bags for Cannes, MTV last week is unveiling its latest public service advertising campaign, aimed at promoting "environmentally friendly lifestyle choices among youth in order to reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change."
The advertisements, created by six agencies -- 180 Los Angeles, Cake, Lowe Worldwide, Ogilvy & Mather, Wieden & Kennedy and Young & Rubicam -- will be shown in 162 countries. The Web site for the campaign, mtvswitch.org, called Switch, shows how the green movement has gone mainstream.
"OK, so we like to consume," it says. "That's fine. Switch isn't here to tell you to start hugging trees and become an eco-warrior -- although it's fine, if that's what you're into. Nah, all we're here to do is ask you to make little changes to the way you consume. So small are these changes that you won't even notice them."
The idea that consumers can continue to consume, making tiny changes in their behavior, is attractive to marketers, too. Not only can they keep promoting consumption, they can turn greenness into a selling point.