Greenpeace Tactics: “Saving the planet” or not, with video mastery


A fundamental component of the Greenpeace modus operandi is visual media. It would seem that  Greenpeace uses visual media in particular, as their medium of choice to capture the hearts and minds of their supporters. I recently read a 2012 paper in Interface (Power imbalances and claiming credit in coalition campaigns: Greenpeace and Bhopal) the other day that referred to this use of visual media as “mind-bombing the media”. The author of the paper Mac Sheoin wrote:

Greenpeace’s international prominence is due to its successful interaction with the mass media through the production of highly visual and spectacular images of confrontation with environmental villains, first in the form of photo opportunities for the print media and later the production of high-quality video for television.

Summarised in the phrase ‘mindbombing the media’, the importance of image production to Greenpeace’s strategies can be seen in the heavy investment Greenpeace made to develop its own means of production. This enables Greenpeace to provide ‘its own photographs to picture editors and has facilities to distribute, scripted and narrated video news spots to television stations in eighty-three countries within hours.’

Consequently I have I decided to canvas a few of Greenpeace’s “highly visual and spectacular images” to nail down some of the visual imaging representations, and see how they go actually sell their message.

Save the Arctic

I was sent the link this Greenpeace Save the Arctic video that was featured (on its own) on the Guardian’s Environmental Page.

I have to admit… I was dead impressed… This is sophisticated messaging.

Not only is the video gritty and urban, featuring what is undoubtedly the symbol of climate change in the Arctic [the Polar bear]; the Polar Bear in this video takes on the persona of a lost homeless youth. For the young adult urban viewer [Greenpeace’s target demographic] this is poignant messaging. It confronts them with issues they know and understand intimately; irrelevant social issues like poverty, displacement  unemployment, family breakdown and dark dirty side of urban living – which through intelligent use of anthropomorphic translocation, the plight of a ‘would be’ homeless youth in suburban London miraculously symbolises the plight of an Arctic polar bear.

This video is genius!

And then to top it all off, the messaging is made even more ‘swish’ with the a soundtrack replete with requisite socio-emotional grit that could only come from Radiohead, and the superpower profile of an earnest Jude Law assuring us that even “if they don’t listen to her they’ll listen you you”… This is powerful evocative stuff! 

“Dammit! I’ll do something!”

Goodness I almost said it myself… I didn’t!

Instead I thought to myself…

“How much did it cost to make?”

Angry Kid

This video has quite a lot of crossover with the one above. I note the grey urban grit in both the demeanor of the youth and his clothing. It is like something from Children of Men, or some other apocalyptic feature that draws its imagery from the urban undergrowth.

The video features the following caption:

Climate change is changing our world. Within the lifetimes of children being born today, it may challenge our survival as a species. The Earth is hotter than it has been for at least one thousand years. By the end of this century, if current trends continue, the temperature will likely climb higher than it’s been at any time in the past two million years. The consequences of this drastic rise, caused by burning fossil fuels, are likely to be catastrophic: mass extinctions, droughts, hundreds of millions of refugees… Join the Revolution

You don’t have to join us to join us!

This one is very ‘swish’ indeed. Notice its all CGI. This sophisticated piece of visual imagery must have had a production budget equally as sophisticated. I do I love the approach that this one takes… It reaches out for financial support in the most novel way… Simply it says:

We are pretty hardcore us Greenpeace people. We do some hair-raising stuff like hunker down at sea in the middle of tempestuous squalls. We understand that you may not be able to actually physically join us…. However if you give is money, you are joining us!

Or something along those lines.

YeaH RighT!

Save New Zealand State Assets? 

This video from Greenpeace New Zealand is very smart… Its intelligence lies its ability to say a multitude of things without saying much at all. In this way it literally mainlines into the New Zealand psyche and then taps potential…

“We are a small nation at the far end of the world… this had brought certain strengths. We’ve had to learn to do it ourselves. To muck in. Do our bit. And get big headed. We might get fed up about stuff, but we try to keep a sense of humour, give everyone a fair go and avoid coming to blows.

Our heroes are those who overcame the insurmountable, who grafted, and in so doing attained the highest. Those who be invention, tenacity, fearlessness, big-heartedness, the unique vision, the simple idea, the crazy dream established our national character and changed the world.  Those who stood for something that at first seemed naive and went on to define us. Those with an idea that now we couldn’t imagine life without.

When we set our minds to something we can become the best. When we stand for something we inspire the world. When we follow others we feel small. When we do it our way we change the course of history. As a nation we are endowed with natural assets that are the envy of the earth, yet the greatest of these is the people…. the people… the people!” [He aha te mea nui? He tangata. He tangata. He tangata].

This video replete with images of icons of New Zealand history like  Dame Whina Cooper, Grizz WileyDavid Lange, and Sir Ernest Rutherford, features the following somewhat ordinary hyperlink:  Why is Greenpeace opposed to state asset sales?

I love it.

Give Earth a Hand…

This sophisticated video to commemorate Earth Day, uses a human hands motif to evoke the message that we all have to give the world a hand.

This fragile Earth deserves a voice. It needs solutions. It needs change. It needs you…

Incredible. Powerful and persuasive..

Come together for forests

Just like every product marketer, Greenpeace knows very well that sex sells….need I say more.

Un-liking Coal

This “timely story about Mark Zuckerberg, a friendly blue giant, and dirty old coal” leverages the release of the [2010-11] Facebook movie (The Social Network)… and of course the Facebook phenomenon itself. Yet by using a children’s story book motif is able to appeal to a slightly younger demographic whose concept of ‘friends’ coincides closely with the facebook concept of friends, and who also use Facebook… and are therefore highly likely to un’like coal…


F-word and Climate Change

This video where Greenpeace claims to tell us the naked truth about the F-word and climate change is also very clever. The use of body art to narrate their point enables the use of nudity… The Greenpeace messaging in the video speaks for itself, but comes with a caption as well:

F-gases, or HFCs, are the super greenhouse gases that cool our drinks, our cars, and our buildings. They have a bigger effect on our climate than carbon dioxide and they are a growing threat. Sign the petition to phase them out by 2020.

Breathe In, Breathe out!

This video for the Greenpeace campaign for a World We Can Breathe In, uses high quality natural history type video as a campaign like this should, which is extremely effective…

Natural history footage is like mathematics… people believe it without question.

Pacific Tuna On The Line

Here is another natural history ‘tell it as it is‘ type video. These images inform us that Pacific tuna stocks are beset by “destructive” and “illegal” fishing practices.

The footage, a careful compilation horrific practices, is compelling, provocative, evocative… Its documentary approach complete with “Fall to Pieces – Silence” by Mika playing in the background, and Greenpeace International campaigner Sari Tolvanen appearing objective after each sound byte of disturbing footage, in the foreground, assuring us that Greenpeace is there fighting the hard fight, changing market behaviour, and generally saving the World.

I don’t believe it… Here is how Greenpeace changes market behaviour…

This ‘do as Greenpeace dictates and we’ll get off your roof” coercion isn’t exactly consistent with Sari Tolvanen’s objective assurances is it?

JFK Calls for a Revolution… an energy revolution!

This is another very clever video… The use of the foresight of iconic US President John F Kennedy to justify Greenpeace’s position on climate change and energy production is genius! I mean JFK holds legend status in the USA, where to many Americans he was a great President who was taken down in his prime….

However we cannot overlook his global appeal, which is arguably equally legendary. To many JFK is an icon, a symbol, the spokesperson of the struggle that was the Cold War… We all remember his 1963 West Berlin speech where he uttered those famous words.

“Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis Romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!”…  All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!””

The Green movement is HUGE in Germany. JFK is HUGE in Germany.  None of this is lost on the Greenpeace marketing machine who with the use of grainy, retrospective footage featuring the charismatic orator President, call for support:

“When man first walked, upon the moon It defined a generation. As this new millennium dawns, we face a greater challenge. Climate change threatens our very existence. What further disasters will convince world leaders that the existing technology in renewable energy Offers the last remaining hope, for a sustainable future?

Hollow words and spineless resolution have failed us. Now is the time for an energy revolution. Will we look into the eyes of our children and tell them that we had the opportunity, but lacked the courage? Will we look into the eyes of our children and tell them that we had the technology, but lacked the vision? Or will we look into the eyes of our children and tell them that we faced our challenge like our fathers, before us and fought.”

This urging by Greenpeace to adhere to JFK’s call to arms to “save the planet” from what they foresee as catastrophic climate change, and join the Energy [R]evolution, which is terribly compelling… and I imagine doubly so for Germans.


Stripping back complexities of Climate Change

Greenpeace videos often use nakedness as a metaphor that is intended to strip back complexities… to denude issues…. or something like that. The messaging in this video is simple… And just in case it was missed, Greenpeace included the following caption with the video:

Six hundred people shed their clothes [and posed for us and renowned naked “installation” artist Spencer Tunick on the Aletsch Glacier] in the Swiss Alps to bodily cry out for help against a planetary emergency: global warming.

Without clothes, the human body is vulnerable, exposed, its life or death at the whim of the elements. Global warming is stripping away our glaciers and leaving our entire planet vulnerable to extreme weather, floods, sea-level rise, global decreases in carrying capacity and agricultural production, fresh water shortages, disease and mass human dislocations.

If global warming continues at its current rate, most glaciers in Switzerland will completely disappear by 2080, leaving nothing but valleys and slopes strewn with rock debris.

I love the reference to “mass human dislocations” – I hope none actually did occur as a result of those people slipping on the ice.


Chernobyl: campaign against Nuclear Power

This older video (2006) campaigning against Nuclear Power – This video is is also very smart… using footage and ‘soviet’ grit to dirty up the imaging in order to provide it with that necessary mortal element to reinforce the Greenpeace anti-nuclear position.  I do love the flash of wind power at the end there…


A well constructed parody is an effective visual marketing tool. As a parody rides on the success of of the original text (in this case visual imaging), it has the benefit of a higher profile right off the bat… What’s more, the paroder can take full advantage of that heightened profile, by being subversive or controversial for even deeper market penetration….

Sealord Commercial

This 60 second TV commercial starring Sealord’s own employees…. became the subject of this Greenpeace Parody…

Greenpeace Parody of the Sealord Commercial

This parody received a lot of negative reaction, perhaps more than Greenpeace anticipated…

NZ Herald journalist Isaac Davidson reported:

A Greenpeace spoof of a Sealord advertisement has brought an angry reaction from Labour MP Shane Jones, who has accused the environmental group as anti-worker and duplicitous towards Maori.

Mr Jones, a former Sealord chairman, also singled out the Green Party, “the political wing of the Greenpeace movement”, for its support of the stunt, which he felt undermined the company in a tough economic climate.

Kiwiblogger  David Farrar added:

The Greens do seem to be against a lot of jobs. Against mining jobs. Against oil jobs. Against fishing jobs. Against roading jobs.

Mr Jones said it was “a step too far” and the equivalent of economic vandalism at a time when jobs were scarce.

“When the Green Party and the Green Priests [Greenpeace] take on a role of using that ad to humiliate, trash and parody not only the brand of the company but its workers, it’s a step too far.”

The Nelson Mail quote Shane Jones:

“They want to cuddle up with Maoris when an international firm wants to drill off the coast of Cape Runaway, and then all of a sudden they want to crap from a great height on Maoridom’s most significant investment, the Sealord company, a company that against considerable odds has retained a lot of industrial capacity in New Zealand.”

Even so, Greenpeace, no doubt pleased as punch with the controversy they caused, and the resulting coverage, justified their parody with something that kind of resembled an apology on the spoof webpage in small print [click here]:

“We mean no disrespect to the people in this video. Sealord have run this advertising campaigning knowing the unsustainability of their tuna products and the damage that FADs are doing to ocean life.  The people of Nelson and other fishing communities around the world deserve to be fishing in to the future.  Only healthy oceans will provide long term jobs for the fishing industry.”

Greenpeace do it Gangnam Style

I’ve used this parody before in this blog…. But it is such a good example of Greenpeace being current… that I have to include it again…

The power of this video is in its ability to engage, by making light of something “important”. This is the pitch at least… And I imagine it is taken as such by the Greenpeace minions as well.

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4 thoughts on “Greenpeace Tactics: “Saving the planet” or not, with video mastery

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