Sky Footprint fund winner: airtime prize means we get taken more seriously

Sky Footprint fund winner: airtime prize means we get taken more seriously
Here We Flo: The brand's "No More Period Drama" ad launched on Sky last year with free airtime
The Media Leader interview

The first winner of the Sky Zero Footprint Fund, five-year-old sanitary product-maker Here We Flo says winning £1m in TV airtime has propelled the brand’s marketing efforts beyond an immediate uplift in sales, writes Ella Sagar.


Sustainability being a worthy but boring cause is an issue that worries Sky’s head of planning.

“The problems are potentially vast,” Sarah Jones, head of planning at Sky Media (pictured, left), tells The Media Leader. “You’ve got the vast majority of people who aren’t that interested in watching stuff about sustainability. So you need to find another way.”

Cracking this problem is one of the reasons Sky has launched the Sky Zero Footprint Fund in 2021.

It sets aside £2m in media value each year for sustainability-focussed brands, enabling them to amplify their products and positive environment messages on TV.

In the two years the initiative been running, a panel of judges has chosen 10 winning brands who have each received a minimum of £250,000 in media value.

All the companies produce ads using insights and tools from the Advertising Association’s AdGreen, which supports the advertising industry’s commitment to net zero.

This year’s winning brands included Ecosia, Homethings, Royal Mail, WUKA, and Serious Tissues. Their TV campaigns will be airing later this year.

Last year’s winning companies included Here We Flo, Olio, Ovo Energy, Pura and Path Financial, whose spots were shown during a Net Zero Carbon Ad Break that ran on Sky Nature and Sky News over two weeks in November 2021, which Sky said was “a British first”.

She explained: “We thought it was a brilliant opportunity to launch something that would bring the advertising industry with us, take them on the journey with Sky and use all of that collective power to to tackle climate change through advertising.”

Here We Flo’s Period Drama

Last year’s winner was brand Here We Flo which provides “shamelessly natural care for life’s messiest moments”, namely organic products for period, bladder and sexual health care, with upwards of 5% of profits going to charities that “help people and the planet.”

Tara Chandra, co-founder of Here We Flo, told The Media Leader: “There’s an incredible sustainability opportunity because we’ve got into the habit in our daily lives of using products that don’t break down quickly, that don’t break down in landfill or that aren’t reusable. And that’s really what we wanted to tackle, so we wanted to come up with products that were plant-based solutions to these everyday messes in life.”

She added that her and her co-founder, who came up with the business idea in a public bathroom while studying at London School of Economics, wanted to be “funny, feminist and fierce” in their advertising.

Chandra (pictured, right) said: “We were super excited when we saw the Sky Zero Footprint Fund competition because it was an opportunity to use our favourite thing, which is humour, to increase the message around sustainability in daily life, but also the normalisation of something that’s a natural part of life, menstruation, that could reach tens of millions of people.”

Here We Flo won the lead prize of £1m in media value in the Footprint’s Fund inaugural year, and has been “tactical” and “smart” with their pot, making it last over at least three campaigns.

Their resulting ad was a spoof called “No More Period Dramas” which went live last spring for two months to coincide with the new series of Bridgerton on Netflix.

Chandra said the spot will run again “with a proper massive campaign” starting this month, and a third run later this year.

Effects beyond a jump in sales

The ad garnered positive feedback, including from older women who no longer menstruated who said they wished the ad had been on TV when they were growing up.

There were also “some amazing complaints” from people who were offended by the women in the ad talking about their cycles on national primetime television. Some of these were addressed “Dear Sirs”, Chandra said, laughing.

In addition to this email feedback, there was a “great response on social media” and a direct positive uplift in sales, particularly with Here We Flo’s digital partners during the ad’s two-month run.

Chandra also highlighted that there were longer-term effects from winning their £1m in media value from the Footprint Fund.

She said: “When you win a competition like this, when you get to be on television, which is something where the barrier might have been a bit high to us before, or a bit intimidating to us thinking about doing a TV campaign, I think it changes perception of the business, especially as a small start-up, which we were at the time.”

“I think we got taken a bit more seriously, so we got some extra opportunities with our retail partners, because they knew ‘okay, a lot of people are going to see this on television and then come into the store’. And it helps with things like if you need to raise investment for the company, because having a company like Sky, and then that panel of incredible judges and creative minds give you that tick mark, is very meaningful to a lot of other businesses and important people for your business.”

Seeing sustainability ‘in a completely different light’

Jones said that “on the face of it” the impact of the Sky Zero Footprint Fund “might look quite small”. However, she thinks the it represents “the bigger opportunity to make a difference”, particularly with winning brands that are either a simple swap for people to make, or “turning a category on its head” which gets everyone else in the category to “up their game”.

She remarked that there was a lot of press, particularly in trade publications, around “purpose advertising not working” or sustainability either being “really boring or invisible”.

On this Jones added: “What we’ve learned from last year and this year is that the brands who have succeeded have just looked at this in a completely different light.”

She has learned three lessons from running the Footprint Fund over the last two years. The first is having the right product that is “actually sustainable” so that it can be put on TV with “some authenticity behind it”.

Jones revealed that during the judging process lots of brands had sustainability was “around the edges of their business” or when you “dug into it” were not really sustainable brands.

Another thing she learned was that by “challenging the status quo in a category”, a sustainable brand can challenge other brands in that category to make a difference.

In particular, sustainable cleaning product brand Homethings, which was a runner-up this year in the Footprint Fund competition, “really went after” some of the bigger cleaning brands through digital advertising. It highlighted the fact that there are rows and rows of cleaning products that are in plastic bottles full of 90-95% water that are being trucked around the country. However, with Homethings products, you can add a powder or tablet to tap water in your home and consistently reuse the bottles.

“Using humour, addressing the the sustainability world in a way that’s unexpected, that isn’t boring, that doesn’t feel like it’s greenwashing is really, really important,” Jones added. “That goes back to just the fundamentals of advertising and creating content, which are to create something meaningful and make it connect with people in an interesting way.”

For Chandra, this only happens when businesses have “the sustainability credentials” and then ensure they find “the right way” to talk about them to the end consumer.

She explained: “You’ll create more social and cultural change, which will end up as a positive environmental impact, if you can entertain people, while talking to them about sustainability. Entertaining doesn’t necessarily mean humour, but you can also just move people.”

The final element to creating a sustainable ad is going about it in “a carbon conscious way”, Chandra insisted. This could be not including single-use plastic and having vegan catering on set while filming.

Jones told The Media Leader that last year’s fund had around 80 brands applying, and wants the range and size of brands that enter to grow.

She explained: “While it’s a fund that gives start-up brands a platform, it’s not a start-up fund. This year Royal Mail were one of the winners which shows that — they’re one of the oldest businesses in the UK.

“Some of those bigger brands have the opportunity to influence their whole customer base. They’ve got millions of people they can influence and we feel them entering the Footprint Fund would help supercharge that [sustainability message] which would be brilliant.”

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