This episode is a bit special this time, as I am interviewing Thomas Bourgenotwho is in charge of advocacy in an association called Resistance to Advertising Aggression (R.A.P).
I knew Thomas by listening to an episode of the very good podcast Green Byte from Tristan Nitot. While listening to their conversation I thought it would be really nice, given our job at Badsender, to interview someone who is against the current advertising system. The idea is to understand his vision of advertising and therefore, by extension, of marketing.
Thomas' job is to fight against the direct and indirect negative effects of advertising activities on the environment and individuals.
Here's the phrase I remember most from our conversation:
As long as we do not question the right to speak of certain big brands and certain industries, which will always have the means to advertise, as long as we do not question this freedom of expression, we can make all the virtuous speeches we want, these speeches will not be heard.Thomas Bourgenot, Advocacy Officer at Résistance à l'Agression Publicitaire
He is not against publicity per se, since his definition of publicity is "to make information public". But he criticizes mostly 3 things:
- a censal advertising system since you have to have a lot of money to use it.
- lubmitted messages without consent (here we are mainly talking about street advertising).
- the messages conveyed encouraging consumption and overconsumption of goods and services that have no real virtues.
In our conversation, we talk about the legal framework, about the prohibition (but in fact still possible under justifications) of the claim " carbon neutrality" , unbearable climate contracts, banning airplanes with advertising banners, and other proposals of the citizen's climate convention that have been filtered out by the government.
We also talk about the social issues of advertising, the problem of the "name and shame"and why the R.A.P. association is rather against, the functioning in "inter-society" mode of the regulatory authorities (ARCOM, ARPP, JDP and co).
We talk about his struggle for "freedom of reception"Thomas explains the two types of reactions of individuals to outdoor advertising (and why emailing is perceived more negatively than display advertising, even though consent is required for one and not the other! Thomas explains the 2 types of reactions of individuals to outdoor advertising (and why emailing is more poorly perceived than display advertising even though consent is required for one and not the other!)
We talk about the project Email Expiration Dateindirect pollution from advertising (cuckoo climate shadow), new narratives, the power of advertising and, above all, the problem of the commercial advertising system that he wants to see regulated by an independent authority.
And as always, we come to talk about the very purpose of a company and its business model.
I had a great time recording this podcast with Thomas several weeks ago and a great time yesterday afternoon writing the text transcription.
Enjoy your listening!
List of references cited during the podcast:
- Climate Contract: https://www.publicite-responsable.ecologie.gouv.fr/comprendre-la-loi/article/les-contrats-climat
- ARCOM (Regulatory Authority for Audiovisual and Digital Communication): https://www.arcom.fr/
- The Évin law https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loi_Évin
- ARPP - Auto Régulation Professionnelle de la Publicité : https://www.arpp.org/
- JDP - Jury of Advertising Ethics: https://www.jdp-pub.org/
This recording is available on all podcast platforms:
Text transcript of the podcast recorded with Resistance to Advertising Aggression
Marion Duchatelet, Badsender Hi Thomas. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.
Thomas Bourgenot, Resistance to Advertising Aggression : Hi Marion. With pleasure.
Marion Duchatelet This episode is going to be a little bit different from what we usually publish. In the "Sobriety & Marketing" podcast, for now, we interviewed founders or at least people who work in companies with a virtuous model. You don't work in a company, you work in an association. Can you start by telling us who you are and what you do today, Thomas?
Thomas Bourgenot My name is Thomas Bourgenot and I am an advocacy officer at the association Résistance à l'Agression Publicitaire (R.A.P).
Marion Duchatelet What is this association?
Thomas Bourgenot It is an association that has existed for 30 years, which is an association of law 1901, whose object is to fight against the direct and indirect negative effects of advertising activities on the environment and individuals. When we said that, we pretty much said everything. I would just like to point out that we are not against advertising per se, since advertising is the act of making information public. So it wouldn't really be coherent to want to prohibit the diffusion of information. Now, we wonder and we criticize a lot the current advertising system which puts forward a lot the speech of the big brands. The current advertising system is a system of freedom of expression, certainly, but it is censorial, that is to say that you have to have a lot of money to be able to use the advertising system to diffuse this information. It is a little that we criticize, in particular the fact of imposing messages without the consent of the people and also the messages conveyed which are rather messages which incite to consume and to overconsume goods and services which do not have necessarily true virtues.
Marion Duchatelet Do you think that advertising as it is expressed today prevents the ecological and social transition?
Thomas Bourgenot For us, this is a major obstacle to a transition if it exists at all. According to studies, we are exposed to between 400 and 5,000 advertising messages per day that invite us to overconsume goods that are rather harmful. I'm not saying that we will change the world just by changing the advertising system, but as long as we don't tackle these incessant messages, we will have a hard time motivating people not to use such and such goods and services.
Marion Duchatelet Could you enlighten us on the legal aspects? Because I have the impression that there are rules and laws that are changing. For example, since January 2023, I know that we can no longer talk about "carbon neutrality" in ads, unless we provide plenty of justification. 12-18 months ago, there was the appearance of climate contracts. Can you shed some light on the latest legislation and maybe what a company cannot do anymore?
Thomas Bourgenot On the carbon neutrality aspect, you should know that at the very beginning, the bill comes from the Climate and Resilience Act which was voted in August 2021 and which came from the Citizens' Climate Convention. It should be noted that the Citizens' Climate Convention proposed about ten measures directly concerning advertising out of the 150 measures it proposed (149 to be more precise). The climate and resilience law, compared to the proposals of the Citizens' Climate Convention, has not gone very far, in our opinion, or at least it has not been ambitious enough. On carbon neutrality, the bill originally planned to simply prohibit the use of the carbon neutrality claim. This would have been much more coherent. There is an opinion from ADEME which explains that talking about carbon neutrality for a company or even more so for a product does not make sense since it is rather at the planetary level that we can talk about carbon neutrality, or even possibly of States. But talking about carbon neutrality for companies doesn't make sense. Today, they can still talk about carbon neutrality by providing a lot of justification. It's a shame not to have just said "since carbon neutrality is not possible at the company level, you are no longer allowed to do it. That would have been much more effective. These are very complex issues and the average citizen will find it difficult to say "Yes, this company is OK, this one is not. So I'm going to attack this one, but not that one. We would have preferred a strict ban on carbon neutrality claims.
Then, on the climate contract, for us, it is really an announcement effect. It is not really a law, since it is a law that imposes self-regulation. I remind you that it is a law that requires companies that spend more than €100,000 per year on advertising to declare themselves on a platform. That is the only obligation they have. From the moment they make more than €100,000, they must declare themselves on the platform. Then, if they want, they can sign what we call a climate contract that will list the commitments they make in the coming years with such indicators. I don't know if you've been to the climate contracts website, it's absolutely unbeatable. There are three general tabs. A tab listing the companies that are subject to the law, that spend more than 100,000 € in advertising, that have declared themselves. Those who have declared themselves and have not signed a climate contract. And those who are subject to the law and have not declared themselves. There are many companies, there are already about a hundred and fifty different climate contracts that are all more or less on the same model. It's six to ten pages long. You have to scroll down a lot, there is a lot of repetition. And so, to read and understand the system, except for people who are a little passionate or who are very interested in the subject, nobody is going to go and look at this site. Especially since the principle, the philosophy of this Climate Contract law is "name and shame", i.e. to damage the reputation of companies that do not play the game. We, at the association, are very skeptical about the principle of "name and shame". It has its limits. Typically, there are many consumers who know that buying from certain big brands is not good, but they still continue to consume these brands. I'm thinking of fast food brands, soda brands, large online delivery platforms. Everyone knows the deleterious effects that these companies have and yet they have never lowered their sales because there was business. Moreover, the ministry has no possibility to say "No, your commitments are not credible". As soon as companies have signed a climate contract, they are good students. But in fact, they do not know what to put in their advertising. For example, car brands put the legal obligation of #SeDéplacerMoinsPolluer. They put a bit of everything they can think of, including things that are mandatory.
Marion Duchatelet : Actually, it's not regulating? Who looks at the contracts? Who checks that everything that has been said has been done?
Thomas Bourgenot ARCOM (Autorité de Régulation de la COMmunication audiovisuelle et numérique). But there are no constraints behind it. If you do not respect your commitments, there is no sanction. The only sanction is if you make more than 100 000 euros of advertising expenses, you are going to risk 30 000 euros of fine not to be reported on the platform.
Marion Duchatelet : Okay. So, there's still ARCOM that's going to look at this?
Thomas Bourgenot ARCOM will be looking into this. Normally, it should be effective from January 1, 2023. But they have added six months because there are still a lot of companies that spend more than 100,000 euros on advertising that have not reported. It will only be from June 1?? 2023 that it will be the case.
Marion Duchatelet Apart from the climate contracts and this carbon neutrality, the ban on saying carbon neutrality, are there any other things that have happened in recent months?
Thomas Bourgenot There is a great advance, I should say a huge advance. It's the banning of airplanes carrying advertising banners on the beach in the summer. I'm being a bit ironic when I say that this is a big step forward, but this is the only measure proposed by the Citizens' Climate Convention that has been taken up as is. Otherwise, all the others have been "filtered", to use Emmanuel Macron's words. There was the ban on promoting products that are climate-damaging, starting with the most polluting vehicles. It proposed to set up an ecoscore in the same way as nutriscore, for example. And if a company would have had more than a B or a C, they would not have been allowed to advertise. That's not what the government and parliament decided. They banned fossil fuel advertising, but with many exemptions. Typically, if a company produces more than 50% of non-fossil energy (agrofuels, for example, which are also problematic). So if a company makes more than 50% of agrofuels, it can advertise. That hasn't stopped Total, for example, from advertising, since the brand will be able to talk about its wind turbines as long as they don't advertise their gas stations or offshore platforms (which they already didn't). It has a very, very, very limited reach. But for us, it's a foot in the door because it's a demand that we have, the fact of banning advertisements for the most harmful products. Moreover, not only in terms of climate, but also health. I am thinking of junk food, in particular, or sports betting, which are not related to ecology, but which also pose social problems. So, it is true that for us, it is a foot in the door because there was already the Evin law which prohibited tobacco advertising and which strongly limits alcohol advertising. The alcohol section has been largely unraveled in the last 30 years, which we strongly regret because we still see many large alcohol companies advertising strong alcohols and beers. It is true that it is problematic, especially for people who are trying to stop drinking, to be confronted every day with large advertisements that remind them of their addiction. It's still very problematic. It's the same for sports betting. There are still social problems, especially in overindebtedness, which are due to these activities. So, it would be good to stop promoting them. The rules that existed for tobacco and alcohol were more about health, and today, it has been said that for environmental reasons, we can go against the freedom of enterprise. And so, for us, this is a foot in the door, but it is still very, very far from being satisfactory, in our opinion.
Marion Duchatelet You mentioned ARCOM, which can regulate. I have in mind the ARPP, which is the Self-Regulation of Advertising. There is also the JDP, which is the Jury for Advertising Ethics. Can you shed some light on these points and tell us how things work in practice? There is an advertiser who puts an ad online, then there are people who file a complaint. Who can file a complaint? In short, all that ;-)
Thomas Bourgenot ARCOM, the former Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel (CSA) for those who have not followed. They delegated to the ARPP in 1992 (which was called at the time the BVP, Bureau de Vérification de la Publicité), the verification of advertising on television. It is the ARPP which is in charge of controlling the advertising messages that are broadcast on television and it is the only control that they do a priori. All the TV spots are checked by the ARPP which verifies that these spots respect the recommendations of the ARPP. It should be known that it is an association of law 1901, therefore absolutely nothing of an independent authority as we hear. For us, the ARPP is more like a lobby. Until very recently, it was written on their site that their mission was to "preserve the image of advertising among consumers, on the one hand, and to help the profession to protect itself against a reinforcement of the legislative framework by good deontological practices". What is important in this whole sentence is "to protect itself against a reinforcement of the legislative framework". Its purpose is really to show that the sector has created ambitious ethical rules and that they are able to enforce these ethical rules. The ethical rules are more or less well written and more or less well respected, but the problem is that this system is a system without sanctions and is based on "name and shame". To damage the reputation of the companies which would be the bad pupils, by the means, in particular, of the Jury of Advertising Deontology which is an authority associated with the ARPP, which I will call the JDP. It is the same, it is a self-proclaimed jury, since it is part of the ARPP association. Their goal is to collect complaints. In principle, anyone can lodge a complaint, whether they are natural or legal persons, when an advertisement does not respect the ethical rules. So, if you don't like an ad, or if an ad annoys you, you can file a complaint but it will not be accepted.
Marion Duchatelet What does it take to be accepted?
Thomas Bourgenot : The advertisement must not respect the ethical rules. For example, if you don't like the color of the ad, it won't be in the rules of ethics. I'm taking a rather silly example, but if you don't like a particular brand, if you don't like the product it sells, the JDP won't be able to take your complaint, because you have to have looked at the recommendations that would not be respected in the advertisement you are attacking. If you see an advertisement in which a person is submissive to another person, this is prohibited by the advertising code of ethics for the image of the human person. Or if you see someone behaving in a dangerous way, or if you see someone promoting waste, tearing up his clothes so that he can buy new ones, that is normally forbidden by advertising ethics. And there, you can attack by saying "it does not respect this or that recommendation of this or that component". You have sections for sustainable development, for the image of the person and for sectors such as the automobile, aviation and food industries. For each sector, they have specific rules.
Marion Duchatelet So, despite all these rules, there are still a lot of ads that go by the wayside and that are completely mind-boggling compared to the Paris agreements, everything we have to do for 2005.
Thomas Bourgenot The problem is that only TV ads are controlled a priori, before broadcasting. The others, the ARPP can refer to itself. It does it very rarely and it is really more than a euphemism. And it generally intervenes on complaint by the JDP. We, at the association, do not do it at all. Because for us, it would be to legitimize the system of self-regulation. And for us, this is not at all the system that is needed. It would be rules set not by the sector, but by an independent authority, combined with bans on polluting products. Why don't we want to legitimize the JDP? First of all, because when the notices come out, it is usually several weeks or even months later, knowing that an advertising campaign will last between one and two weeks at the most. So, you have your campaign that has been seen by millions of people and two months later, in the best case, you have a JDP notice that will be seen by dozens of people at most. In the last JDP report, which dates from 2019 or 2020, we were at 100,000 visitors over the year of the site. A campaign that appears on TF1, it is seen by several million people per day.
Marion Duchatelet : You think, anyway, since it's two months later, the damage is done.
Thomas Bourgenot : Yes, there are just people at 1% who have seen the ad who will have the counter argument, that this ad was not ethical.
Marion Duchatelet How do you act? What are your actions?
Thomas Bourgenot We are trying to make sure that the advertising system is more constrained at the legal level, which is absolutely the opposite of what ARPP wants to do, which, as I said, wants to protect itself from a legislative reinforcement. This is the reason why we do not want to legitimize our action by bringing a complaint against the JDP, especially since there are plenty of problematic advertisements and we could not spend our time checking all the advertisements because we are an association with limited forces. So we choose our battles. And so, why this advertiser and not that one? Especially since there is also the fact that when we file a complaint, it can also add to make speak even more about the brand. Because when there is a bad buzz, it will make the newspapers react and they will talk about the advertisement and therefore talk about the brand. And we don't want to play this game too much. So we rarely talk about advertisers. We rather talk about the advertising system in general than about the advertisers.
Marion Duchatelet So what you want to do is to move the system by moving the laws rather than pointing fingers at people who are doing wrong.
Thomas Bourgenot Yes, that's right. Especially since there are already a lot of associations that do advertising verification and we have another added value, if I may use the term, it is rather in advocacy, in trying to make things move at the legislative level.
Marion Duchatelet What are your main demands? What would be the ideal laws for you?
Thomas Bourgenot We have a great demand, it is a principle that we call the freedom of reception. It is the corollary of the freedom of expression, that is to say that we can say whatever we want in the respect, of course, of the rules on the freedom of expression, no defamation, no incitement to hate, no incitement to sexism. I'm not going to go through all the restrictions of freedom of expression, but we should be able to choose to receive messages or not. So, having an active approach rather than a passive approach as we have in most of the media. Typically, in the street, today, we are faced with large posters that are 2 meters, or even 8 meters, or even on advertising banners, on historical monuments, hundreds of square meters. There, we don't have the choice to see these ads. In the mailbox, as long as we don't put our "Stop ad" sticker, we don't have the choice to receive them or not. We are still subjected to a lot of advertising without having the choice of receiving the message. So, it would be better to try to reverse the logic, a bit like we have on the Internet with the deposit of cookies, is it that you consent to receive advertising or not?
Marion Duchatelet : Does that mean that in the street you forbid everything? Because in the street you can't give consent. Are you against posters in bus shelters, on monuments, etc.?
Thomas Bourgenot In the street, our demand is not the banning of advertising or billboards. On the other hand, it is the reduction of formats and the use of electricity. So nothing scrolling and nothing luminous and nothing digital, which for us is really the worst advertising aggression that can exist in outdoor advertising. Our proposal is two square meter panels with several 50 centimeter by 70 centimeter posters inside. Why this format? Because it is the format for the display of associative and political opinions in free billboards.
Marion Duchatelet : So it's a format to get everyone on the same page?
Thomas Bourgenot : There you go. Everyone on the same footing.
Marion Duchatelet That's what I was thinking when you were talking. I'm thinking that there is a lot of interesting advertising coming from the territories. This advertising could popularize new messages and new narratives, new values, new beliefs, and that often comes from the territories. But these territories don't have the tune of the big brands to do 4 by 3. At first, I thought you were against advertising at all, at least in billboards, without consent. But what you've just explained to us gives me a better idea of what you want to do. Because in fact, there is also a notion of message. I think we agree on the fact that advertising, visual display, display of words, we'll say, is not completely null if and only if the message carried is in the right direction.
Thomas Bourgenot Yes. Afterwards, we have to agree on what is common sense, because not everyone has the same notion. There can also be "common sense" messages that are either not effective or are counterproductive, since they can also provoke reaction in people, i.e. "I'm told to do this, I'm tired of being told what to do". Typically, messages that call for... I don't know...
Marion Duchatelet To not eating meat?
Thomas Bourgenot Yes to not eating meat. The fact that we tell them "stop eating meat", it seems liberticidal to them. They say "stop telling me what to do, I'm not a child". It can also create a counter-effect if it is too bludgeoned. The "positive" messages are to be taken with a pinch of salt too, I think. I don't know why, I don't explain it, why the advertising message that calls for consuming is less felt as aggressive than stopping eating meat or stopping flying. But the fact is that people rebel less.
Marion Duchatelet You talk a lot about the consent stroke. I want to ask you about my job. We do emailing, which means that we help brands in their email communication strategy. This means that we communicate with the contacts who have asked to receive the newsletters, so there is a consent. What do you think about newsletters and emailing in general?
Thomas Bourgenot The newsletter, as long as it is not imposed (and I'm talking about what falls in the spam box) and that people have consented, but in an informed way, that is to say not with dark patterns. So not with the little manipulations in the mode the box is checked, but if the box is unchecked, you consent to or the opposite, the box that is checked and ... in short if it's done in clean mode, namely "The box is unchecked and yes, I want the newsletter and that you have checked this box." For us, there's absolutely no problem sending newsletters, and as long as you can also unsubscribe easily. Because if you have a newsletter and you're sending four a day and the person can't unsubscribe, that's not a good newsletter.
Marion Duchatelet You are subscribed to newsletters?
Thomas Bourgenot : Yes, but not from a company, rather from an association. And if I'm tired of it flooding me with messages, I make sure I'm not subscribed to those newsletters anymore.
Marion Duchatelet : But it's funny because when I talk about my job, people say "Ah, you're spamming?"
Thomas Bourgenot : That's why I made the difference.
Marion Duchatelet : Yes, I hear you. But right away, when I talk about my job, what I'm told is that they're fed up with the emailings they receive, even though they must receive 30 to 50 a day, really in the max. But when they go out of their house, there are thousands of billboards and they are not as fed up.
Thomas Bourgenot There are two reactions to outdoor advertising. There are people who are aware that it is a problem and who take it as an aggression, people like me. There are also other people who say "I don't see the advertising. Whereas spam or newsletters, it implies that you have to do something once you have received the email. Unless you don't care about having 12,500 unread messages, but generally, people like to be able to manage between important messages and unimportant messages and therefore clean up their mailbox daily. And indeed, when you tell me 30 to 50 messages per day, it seems like a lot to me. But if I received 30 to 50 messages and I had to take the step of making 60 clicks, i.e. opening, reading and deleting them or not, so that's 60 clicks per day, 60 to 100 clicks, so you can't say "I don't see it" because you process the information. So I understand that when you subscribe to a lot of newsletters, because you say to yourself "I am interested in this or that association or company because these products are likely to interest me", and then in fact you realize after a month that they send two to five messages per week that you have to process. And after two months, the best thing to do is to unsubscribe, but sometimes we don't feel like doing it, and so we consider, even a newsletter to which we have subscribed in an informed way, we consider it in our brain as spam, as something we didn't agree to. And so, indeed, in the end, it's a mental burden. So it's up to companies to say "I'm going to communicate, but let's communicate on relevant things and avoid spamming people who have voluntarily subscribed".
Marion Duchatelet : Precisely, at Badsender, we are at the initiative of a project called " Email Expiration Date ". The idea is that advertisers include an expiration date in their emails. For example, a Father's Day type email, it necessarily has an expiration date, since at some point, Father's Day has passed. Or even for a normal newsletter, after ten days, no one opens or clicks on it anymore. So, I put an expiration date and the idea would be that email systems would take this expiration date information and automatically or semi-automatically delete commercial emails, because in France, you need consents for almost everything, except for advertising in the street.
Thomas Bourgenot : Except for the reception of advertising.
Marion Duchatelet We are working on it. We are not alone, we are with other people. The idea is to make things change in a systemic way. I also take you back to what you want to do with the change in the laws. Do you think that this kind of initiative would make it possible to move things or maybe even consciences or that it is rather anecdotal in the end?
Thomas Bourgenot The problem with emails is that we talk about them a lot. Typically, even at the highest level of government, six months ago we had the Minister of Energy Transition explaining that we should stop sending emails with funny attachments. I understand and it is rather good for digital sobriety to clean up the mailboxes to avoid cluttering up the servers, especially when you send newsletters that weigh tons. The question to ask ourselves is maybe to stop sending newsletters that weigh tons and also to do digital sobriety with less images, shorter, lighter images, with less trackers too, because there are still a lot of trackers in all these newsletters that add requests, data, energy consumption. I don't know technically how it can work, such a system.
Marion Duchatelet It's feasible and it's apparently quite simple. In any case, the technical working group has validated the approach.
Thomas Bourgenot I won't criticize this approach. I do find it a bit anecdotal when you know the weight of a digital company, and where it is located, namely in the production of terminals, rather than in the actual consumption of the Internet.
Marion Duchatelet We are well aware that it is, as we say, a micro-pile in all this shit. Nevertheless, we work with companies, rather large accounts that send hundreds of millions of emails per year. And after all, that's a lot of CO2. We also try to move the system and do our part at this level. But we are well aware that it is also the economic model of the companies that should be changed in priority.
Thomas Bourgenot : It makes me think of all the debates on the eco-design of advertisements. Namely, we won't go to the Bahamas to shoot our ad, but in Essonne, for example, so we make fewer trips. That's fine, but if the purpose of the advert when we go to shoot in Essonne rather than in the Bahamas is to sell a large SUV, fast food or air travel. So yes, the ad did emit less CO?e to be conceived. On the other hand, it always sells the same products... We forget about the indirect pollution of advertising which is the biggest problem we identify. We are not going to lie to ourselves, even the luminous signs, if we turn them off, it will not be revolutionary. It will be already very good since every gesture counts and energy is our future, let's save it, as the advertisement says. But compared to big industries, which use a lot of energy, these are all energy savings. On the other hand, we have RTE, the Energy Transport Network, which explains that small gestures are still ways to go because it still saves energy and everything is good to take, but also that it will reduce the incentive to consume, which is also one of the major issues.
Marion Duchatelet You were talking about indirect pollution. I quite agree with you. I put a lot of importance on the message that is carried by advertising and I find that, in fact, the real challenge is perhaps not so much to reduce the number of posters or the number of emails, etc., but to succeed in reinventing a new discourse, new words and new desires through advertising. Let's imagine a world where we had as many ads, but with new beliefs. Wouldn't that be pretty cool, advertising?
Thomas Bourgenot We are also for the reduction of messages in general, because we also have the problem of infobesity. Today we are bombarded with messages, whatever they are, everywhere. And as a result, the public space would be good if there was less advertising pressure, if there were fewer messages. In addition, there are lots of signs, there are signs everywhere and that's not really going to change. Even if we reduce the advertising pressure, the stores will still be there.
Marion Duchatelet I agree with you in principle, but if I play devil's advocate, I still think that advertising is a huge power. We were made to drink water in plastic bottles and we were made to believe that it would be better for our health. They made us believe that coffee in capsules would be better for our health. There is still a strong power of advertising that can make people do anything. If we turn the messages into better beliefs and new stories, don't you think that it's also thanks to advertising that we can succeed in training everyone and not just people who have money to spend 100 bucks on a sweater because it's well made, etc.? You know what I mean? I understand you completely on everything you say, but I still wonder: isn't advertising a power to try to get everyone on board and to finally make new stories emerge?
Thomas Bourgenot We have to see because the current system is a power where it is the organizations that have money that can advertise. I'm just going to talk about outdoor advertising because for us, it's a bit of a hobbyhorse because we can generally protect ourselves from advertising on all other media. But on the street, you have to go there, either to go to work, to pick up your children from school, to stroll, to go see your friends, to do activities other than work. You have to go to the street. That's the place where you can't get away from the advertising. So for us, it's really a sector and a medium that is very important to us, even if the others, we also wonder about it, but we work less strongly on it. As long as we remain on a commercial system of advertising display, we will have the biggest actors who will be able to advertise and the biggest actors, we will not lie to ourselves, it is rather the biggest companies which have activities which are today to be reduced. Whether it's meat, fast food, bottled water, smartphones that need to be renewed constantly, fast fashion, ultra fast fashion where we have now reached the ultimate stage where we create new references every day on the site and where we encourage people to buy products that cost two or three euros and that we encourage to renew constantly. As long as we have that, we cannot have positive messages. The associations or organizations that make "positive" messages do not have the budgets of all the brands I just mentioned. Typically, the road safety organization has a small budget, but compared to the 4 billion dollars spent on car advertising, its prevention message will be completely inaudible. As long as we do not question the right to speak of certain big brands and certain industries that will always have the means to advertise, as long as we do not question their freedom of expression, we can make all the virtuous speeches we want, but these speeches will not be heard.
Marion Duchatelet You don't believe that a company can transform itself without laws? You don't believe in a company's awareness?
Thomas Bourgenot The objective of a company is to make a profit. As long as it is not constrained in one way or another, it will continue to make a profit. And so, very clearly, Air France's goal today is not at all to reduce its turnover. On the contrary, it's either looking for new customers or making sure that people who are already customers fly even more. Their objective is not at all to say "In the next ten years, we must have a decrease in air traffic". On the contrary, they are counting on a doubling by 2030. Their goal is really to normalize air travel and advertising will promote this normalization by saying "Go to the other side of the world, it's only X euros, you'll be able to spend the weekend there and you'll see, it's great.
Marion Duchatelet Are there any companies that inspire you in their approach or not?
Thomas Bourgenot : Maybe it will be small businesses. I don't have anything against local bakeries, small traders, local business people. But I don't see any big brands that really have a virtuous business model. People quote Back Market a lot. In principle, it's very good to encourage second hand. But the problem is that it also has a rebound effect. People say to themselves, "I sold my stuff on Back Market, so I can continue to consume more. I saw people who were using ultra fast fashion websites, the Chinese website Shein, and who were reselling clothes they hadn't even worn on Vinted in order to buy them again on Shein the next day.
Marion Duchatelet : It gives them a clear conscience.
Thomas Bourgenot We bring in clothes from the other side of the world, clothes that are produced in absolutely deplorable social and ecological conditions. Because if you want to buy clothes for two or three euros, you have to know that you can't do it with acceptable standards. We bring them from the other side of the world, we don't even wear them, we just unpack them and then we sell them. We have them retransported so that we can buy them back. On the principle, the site is virtuous since it is a site of second hand. But, there are rebound effects. As long as we encourage people to consume, the second hand becomes a way to give good confidence, as you said very well.
Marion Duchatelet : Yes. After that, there are quite a few companies that, of course, want to make money, but with the objective of paying people at the end of the month. If they don't make much profit, it doesn't matter. The idea is already to be profitable. The goal of a business is not always to absolutely increase headcount and growth at all costs. Some companies say, "Well, our business works with five or ten people. We'll stay at five or ten and then we'll try to do things right.
Thomas Bourgenot I don't dispute that at all. It's just that these companies are not part of the advertising system as I understand it. That is, they won't be seen in the TF1 tunnel, they won't be displayed on the billboards in the street. At worst, they will be able to buy an advertising campaign in a very targeted city that will last one week and will be forgotten the next day. And afterwards, the big fast food brands will flood the whole of France with a campaign, or even several annual campaigns, to remind consumers of their existence. That virtuous companies exist, most certainly. I am not saying that the business world does not want to move forward, because I can imagine that even entrepreneurs know that we are on the same planet and that there are also people in the business world who realize that the planet is limited and that, of course, we have to support people by making them work, but there are no jobs on a dead planet. If we could try to make sure that the planet is not dead, or at least that we can continue to live on it, I imagine that there are people who are still aware that we need to move towards that. But globally, if we look at the figures for advertising expenditure, we have five to six hundred advertisers who are responsible for 75 to 80 percent of advertising expenditure. And these five to six hundred advertisers are not the companies you are talking about.
Marion Duchatelet That's for sure. I thank you Thomas for your time, it was really cool. See you soon.
Thomas Bourgenot : See you soon! Bye.