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Greenpeace: the bravest brand without a brand manager?

Greenpeace's latest ad comes from Mother in London

Greenpeace UK's executive director prizes environmental cause above brand identity, a tactic that’s led to a smorgasbord of creative campaigns that are strong enough to stand alone.

In the past year the environmental charity has stamped its name across a cutting pastiche of Coca-Cola’s Christmas lorries, an homage to 90s music videos fronted by a gang of anthropomorphic hip-hop barbeque meats and, most recently, a painstakingly hand-crafted animation that explores the dark underbelly of palm oil production.

The breadth of the organisation’s creative work is outstanding, particularly when set against the current charitable landscape. More and more charities are now chiselling themselves into brands with a distinct identity and mission in order to cut through the clutter and bring in more donations – a trend sparked in part by marketing professionals advocating a philosophy of consumer over cause.

This prevailing strategy has led charities to demand the same levels of visual and written consistency as the biggest corporate multinationals. But Greenpeace has chosen a different path and opened itself up to almost every creative style and execution, an approach that, in 2018, automatically labels a brand as ‘brave’.

John Sauven, the charity’s executive director for the UK, traces this tactic back to the organisation’s international structure. “To a certain extent, people are referencing different kinds of cultural references and the contexts in which they find themselves in, in different parts of the world,” he told The Drum.

This makes sense – the rapping ‘Notorious PIG’ worked in the French market, but likely wouldn’t have translated outside of the West. But the company supports this transnational freedom with a permissive approach to the idea of ‘brand’, too.

“[We’re] not a corporate brand, although you have one name under Greenpeace,” said Sauven. “There isn't a brand manager or somebody that's laying down the law and making everybody adhere to a set of rules. I think the only rule that we have is that [the logo] has to be written in the same colour, which of course does give you a lot of creative freedom to be able to express yourself in different ways.”

The director admits that his organisation is lucky to be so well-known across the globe. It’s this awareness – alongside a growing popular interest in environmental issues – that gives Greenpeace space to “break out of the box” with its creative.

It means questions regarding brand perception can be set aside to focus purely on the causes at hand; the latest being the multinationals who use ‘dirty palm oil’ in their supply chain and destroy the habitat of the orangutan in the process.

‘There’s a Rang-Tan in my Room’ by Mother was created to draw attention to this issue. Viewed alongside some of Greenpeace’s other work its hand-painted frames and storybook script make for a more mainstream spot. However, for Sauven, it was still a “a bit of a gamble”.

“We weren't actually thinking of an animation,” he said. “When Mother came back and pitched a whole series of ideas to us at the beginning of this year, I remember we had a very big discussion about [the animation] because we thought: ‘Will it work?’

“I think when we saw the final result of this the quality was just unbelievable – the power of the emotion, the writing, the illustrations – we were just bowled away by it. I think it dispelled any doubts that we might have had over making animation work.”

What’s it like to work within Greenpeace’s historically oscillating creative space? For Hermeti Balarin, joint executive creative director of Mother, it was “very difficult to strike the right tone, not only for the brand but for the sets of challenges for this specific cause”. But this was partially remedied by Sauven himself: he was previously director of communications at the organisation and so proved himself to be “a very well versed marketing client”.

“We had loads of debate – he wanted to push it higher and wanted to do something different,” said Balarin. “I know for a fact they are really pleased with this particular style and the tone we struck overall, and loads of their offices around the world are in the translation process. Hopefully this has an impact on how the brand speaks in the future.”

Balarin characterises Greenpeace not only as a brave brand but as a community of brave people – people who are willing to take to the seas and the trees to physically protect planet Earth.

But for Sauven, that’s all part of business.

“There are forces much larger than us ... that have immense power and the immense power to hit back against us,” he states. “But it’s what you believe in that it's really important – the values that you hold – because ultimately that is what will win out. Whatever it takes, in a peaceful sense, we are prepared to do: we are prepared to take risks.

“Putting your life on the line for things that you believe in becomes really important in terms of the urgent. And that is reflected in our comms as well.”

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