Deliver great creative performance while improving your ESG

Sustainability is a great opportunity for MENA brands to build new and better growth paths, writes Wavemaker’s Tonia Eid

Environment, social and governance (next-generation CSR/corporate social responsibility, if you will) has exploded in importance in recent years, and a more aware generation moving into management and increasing their spending power.

Have you heard about the 10-year-old boy who wrote to Betty Crocker to ask why the baking giant’s package instructions and advertising only addressed women?

The 100-year-old brand took the young chef’s message to heart, changing its marketing, packaging and thinking to be more inclusive.

It repackaged 20+ million products with gender-neutral instructions and more inclusive artwork and changed its tactical advertising to actively target men and engage male brand ambassadors.

One year on, more than 70 per cent of its customers said the kitchen is for everyone, a sea change from previous attitudes.

This isn’t an Upworthy story or one from the archives of American/European advertising. It happened here in the UAE in 2021 with a GroupM client. To this day, Betty Crocker Arabia’s instructions include gender-neutral pronouns in every Arabic dialect across 19 countries.

It has made its inclusive, researched language available to all brands – including competitors – to use, to help further shift the needle on cultural mindsets.


To meet the demands of a generation that wants brands that align with their personal beliefs, we must first understand that sustainability is multi-dimensional.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles include everything, from gender equality to low-impact packaging to community development and are a good place to start.

At GroupM and WPP, we are committed to multiple ESG metrics from workplace diversity and gender equity to emissions mitigation.

WPP has committed to reaching net-zero emissions across its direct operations by 2030 – including the media buys we make for our clients, which account for half of its total emissions.

It’s a sizeable task that requires sizeable change at every level of our operations.

While it may not be as visible as improving diversity in advertising or as easily understood as replacing plastic straws and bags, this is an area where significant impact can be made. It is undoubtedly a harder road to plough, but those are often the roads that separate leaders from followers.


At GroupM, we are responsible for more than $60 billion in annual media investment, as measured by the research bureau COMvergence. As the world’s largest media buyer, we have a tremendous responsibility to advance media decarbonisation efforts and reduce carbon emissions.

Our GroupM decarbonisation programme, a global framework for media decarbonisation, does exactly that. It launched an industry-leading carbon calculator that can be used from the planning phase of the media supply chain to influence spending towards lower carbon environments, allowing us to reduce carbon emissions per media impression by 50 per cent by 2030.

Over the next 3-5 years, we plan to move our media investment to publishers and platforms that decarbonise. It is this kind of cascading change that leads to lasting transformation: If we want to truly make a difference, our action must be collective.

We also want to help clients embed these changes into their practice, to improve their triple bottom line, and so we share steps brands can take immediately to implement as part of their sustainability journey.

The truth is we can deliver great creative and overall performance while improving our ESG performance. We can minimise our environmental impact while improving our campaign performance – all with the same media budget.


There is no doubt that these changes are here to stay; the upcoming COP28 in the UAE and the embedding of sustainability in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 are indicative. It all underlines one certainty:

Sustainability isn’t just a corporate buzzword but a fundamental business principle that drives long-term viability, consumer and investor preference, competitive advantage and innovation, cost savings and efficiencies, and brand value.

We cannot afford to delay taking meaningful action. Alongside this urgency, however, there is tremendous hope. Hope that MENA brands, guided by ESG principles, can thrive in this dynamic landscape.

Hope that the region’s emerging leadership will champion sustainability as the core of their business strategies. Hope that consumers will continue to reward authenticity and purpose-driven brands.

To realise this hope and address the urgency, agencies and brands must work hand in hand to prioritise sustainability initiatives and drive this conversation to the top of their agendas.

Together, we can amplify the message of ESG, educating and inspiring not just consumers but industries and governments.

Sustainability is not just an opportunity for MENA brands; it is a moral imperative and strategic necessity. It is the path to a better, more equitable and prosperous future.

Every small step counts. The time to act is now, and the possibilities for a brighter tomorrow are limitless.

By Tonia Eid, Senior Manager at Wavemaker