Corporate Social ResponsibilityEnvironmentSocial Media

Lessons From A Really Slick Campaign to Save The Arctic

Over the years, the activist group Greenpeace has relied on blockades on the high seas and protests on land to push its environmental agenda. More recently, Greenpeace also demonstrated how it’s successfully using social media to put the blocks to companies whose practices need to change.

In keeping with the kind of audacity that has characterized some of its past and highly visible “direct action” efforts, Greenpeace last summer posted a video to YouTube that showed a model of the Arctic – made from Lego bricks – being destroyed by an oil spill from Shell Oil Co. rigs and drills. The video was part of a campaign to shame the Danish toymaker into breaking a marketing arrangement with the oil company.

The fact that Lego earlier this month announced plans to sever its 50-year relationship with Shell came as no surprise. The “Everything is NOT awesome” video received over 1 million views just one day after it was posted online. By the time the video had nearly 6 million views, Lego had enough and decided it would no longer sell its toy sets in Shell gas stations in 26 countries.

Recently, many businesses, firms and organizations have been using what’s known as “brandjacking” – borrowing the elements of another organization’s brand to push an agenda. The rise of social media has presented a great opportunity to take advantage of this playful approach.

However, Greenpeace has taken the concept of brandjacking to a whole new level.  Using a cheeky, yet somewhat risky approach, it created a campaign that mimics the brands it is targeting.

“It’s a really easy place for us to operate in,” said Cassady Sharp, an online content creator for Greenpeace. “Go after brands specifically and say you can do better. Your customers want you to do better.”

This sentiment speaks to the overall goal of the “Save the Arctic” campaign. The campaign was not created to start a battle over morality; it was simply a clever political push by an environmental organization to stop further destruction to the Arctic caused by companies drilling for oil.

Despite the success of the campaign, critics have focused on the fact that Lego itself uses oil to produce its products. Perhaps so. But the point of this campaign was different. It was to embarrass Lego and pressure it to break its relationship with Shell, while simultaneously branding the oil company with a very public black eye.

The campaign offers a number of valuable lessons, many of which are summed up in article by Elena Polisano, an Arctic campaigner at Greenpeace UK, that appeared earlier this month in the Guardian.

In addition, here are some of my own takeaways about how to apply the lessons of the Greenpeace effort to different types of campaigns, not just environmental ones:

  • Make some noise.  Since people are exposed to thousands of messages a day, it has become difficult to grab their attention. You’ve really got to create a campaign that sparks a bit of controversy. For certain issues, this approach is the best way to get people to care. Greenpeace’s take on brandjacking was a drastic way to push two large companies to change their behaviors.
  • Don’t underestimate your voice. This goes hand-in-hand with “make some noise.” If you have a catchy, controversial, or creative campaign, bets are somebody will take notice. In most cases, it’s the public on blogs and social media. The public outcry will eventually push one party in the situation to make a move.
  • Play the cute card.  Featuring children and animals in your campaign is a no-brainer, especially if the topic relates to either one. If you question the weight of this tactic, just take a look at BuzzFeed Animals or Reddit. The sheer number of articles, videos and pictures should tip you off. Greenpeace recognized the value in this tactic, and organized a peaceful protest of 50 children outside a London Shell office. The children built larger-than-life Artic animals out of Lego-inspired cardboard bricks.
  • Be well rounded. Today there are so many means to get a message across to your audience. Keeping that in mind, it’s important to use different mediums to reinforce your point, especially if it’s a big ask. Having that convergence across the board will help you obtain that big goal. Greenpeace is very deliberate in its strategy. By using various social media outlets and creative protests, Greenpeace has been able to achieve those lofty goals.
  • Deep pockets don’t always get the upper hand. When taking on a huge corporation, you will almost always be at a disadvantage when it comes to money. Thinking creatively will often level the playing field in these types of situations.

For a little more inspiration, here are other examples of how Greenpeace has used brandjacking:

In 2011, it launched an anti-deforestation campaign to pressure toy manufacturer Mattel to drop Asia Pulp and Paper as its paper supplier. As part of this effort, Greenpeace staged the breakup of the company’s iconic doll couple, Barbie and Ken, by having activists scale Mattel’s 15-story headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., and place a giant banner picturing Ken that read, “Barbie, It’s over. I don’t date girls that are into deforestation.”

Rewind back two more years, and Trader Joes was cleverly renamed “Traitor Joes” because of its purchase of “red-listed” seafood, a practice that was said to be damaging the oceans. A year after the campaign was launched, the grocer changed it policies and promised to only sell sustainable seafood in its stores.

Calling out large corporations is easy. Getting enough people to care and demand action is another story. Greenpeace has identified a sweet spot for turning attention to problematic corporate social responsibility.

By conducting research and measuring the reaction to its campaigns, Greenpeace discovered that its audience responds really well to this mischievous approach.

“Make something that can sometimes be really depressing, like environmental issues, just a little bit more fun and playful and hopefully that makes people more engaged and inspired by the content, “ said Sharp. “We typically see this over and over again with these campaigns. People like the playfulness and feel more inspired to do something.”

Posted: October 23, 2014
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