Targets – Or how Greenpeace used the public to pressure Lego to hurt Shell

 On October 9th 2014, Lego finally succumbed to pressure from Greenpeace to end its marketing contract with Oil company Shell. The straw that broke the camel’s back was this video – ‘Everything’s NOT awesome’, a Greenpeace remake of a song featured in the popular Lego Movie. The video has well over 6 million hits on YouTube. But how did this campaign achieve its goal?

Roman Krznaric’s Oxfam report “How Change Happens” (2007) offers us some useful questions for analysing a successful campaign:

• Who or what was involved in the change?

– This is an interesting case because there are four main parties involved in the campaign: Greenpeace, Lego, Shell and people (or public opinion/pressure). Greenpeace’s main gripe is with Shell, but rather than directly target Shell in this campaign, they focused on raising public pressure on Lego to cut its contract with Shell.

• What strategies were used to bring about the change?

– In this particular campaign it was essentially a very effective music video. It caused such bad publicity for Lego that ultimately the Danish company felt it had to agree not to renew its contract with Shell. The campaign also used images like these to publicise the fight:

Greenpeace Lego Shell Capitol Hill

• What were the contexts that affected how the change happened?

– The context is mainly to do with public perceptions of both brands. People have fond, nostalgic memories of Lego. They associate it with their childhoods, with their children. The 2014 Lego Movie, which has the original “Everything is Awesome” song, also plays off these positive associations. Shell, however, is an oil company. The public generally has a poor impression of oil companies as major polluters and mega rich corporations. What Greenpeace so cleverly did was to create a video that, quite literally, tars Lego with the same brush. The company realised that the public’s attention was being drawn to the relationship between the two companies, and Lego realised their positive reputation would be sullied by the association.

• What was the process or pathway of change?

– The campaign, while largely successful due to the video, draws on decades of environmental activism against oil companies. It is only possible to make Lego worry about the damage the association with Shell will do their own reputation if Shell have a bad reputation. And the fact that Shell and oil companies have a bad reputation is built upon decades of environmental activism. Indeed, the video footage itself cleverly draws upon themes and images that are already part of the canon of environmental activism. Polar bears, oil tankers, cigar smoking businessmen, ice caps, wildlife drowning in oil spills.

“What matters is not so much the stories you tell as the extent to which the stories you tell resonate with the stories your audience already knows.” (Polletta 2008)

The Greenpeace video very cleverly draws on these stories we already know to make their point. It also juxtaposes the warm, positive feelings of childhood toys we have, with the shocking, cold, adult world of business and environmental damage. The lyrics of the song, ‘Everything is Awesome’ are completely subverted when played over these images.

While that is the tool by which Greenpeace achieved their goal, we should also consider their Theory of Change. Greenpeace’s main aim here is to challenge oil companies like Shell. On this particular occasion they found a way of challenging them by targeting those associated with them. The fact that they used public opinion to do this is also significant, because in doing this campaign they raised further bad publicity for Shell, which is in keeping with their broader goals.

The fundamental battle being fought in society is the battle over the minds of the people. The way people think determines the fate of norms and values on which societies are constructed”  (Castells 2007)

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