Sometimes you just get lucky. When I first saw the creatives for our Kit Kat brand attack from Greenpeace UK, my gut said we had a winner. But the fact that our brand attack has turned into a rout has more to do with how Kit Kat responded to it.
First, some background.
The problem: Kit Kats and many other chocolates are made from palm oil, which is grown by mowing down peatland rainforest in Indonesia, which is contributing to climate change in a major way. Deforestation is responsible for more co2 than the world’s entire transport system — that’s all the cars, planes, busses trucks etc on the planet!)
Our objective: An end to palm oil plantings on deforested peatland. Get the major buyers of palm oil to demand their supply doesn’t come from deforestation. Use customer pressure on Kit Kat to get Nestlé, one of the biggest buyers of palm oil and owner of the Kit Kat brand, to demand better practices and cancel contracts with suppliers who can’t or won’t demonstrate they’re not cutting down orangutan habitat to plant palm.
Our tactic: Create a spoof ad that would drive customers to write to Nestle to demand the do the right thing.
Did the video make me uncomfortable? Yep. Did it meet resistance from a lot of folks internally as appearing “violent” or inappropriate to Greenpeace’s communications? Yep. Was it out of the zone of positioning us as an organisation with solutions and a vision of a green and peaceful planet? In isolation, perhaps. But here was a piece designed to do several things: cast an uncomfortable spotlight on Nestlé, and shock people into paying attention to the issue of rainforest destruction for Palm Oil and get them to pass it along. Maximum eyeballs = maximum pressure on Nestlé to come to the table. Unless it made you uncomfortable, it wasn’t going to rise above the noise of the daily infotainment hose that is the internet.
As it turned out, we’ll never know if the video would have gone viral on its own. Because Nestlé took the issue to a whole new level by fumbling every single play, and ensured it went viral by trying to censor it. This will surely be the stuff of powerpoints from PR consultants around the world for years to come, as lessons in what not to do if you face a customer revolt.
I just returned from SXSW, where Gary Vaynerchuk’s made a fabulous presentation about how companies in the era of Social Media simply can’t run away from customer relationships: they need to treat those who engage with their brand –positively and negatively — with respect, with honesty, really listen to them, internalize their messages, and act on their needs. And when people tell Kit Kat they don’t want to buy rainforest destruction with their chocolate bars, the only proper response is to treat it seriously. To do what McDonalds did when we launched an effort against their nuggets, which were driving deforestation of the Amazon for soy plantations. McDonalds didn’t just say “we’ll get back to you in a couple years” (as Nestle did) they actually gathered the other buyers, worked with them and the Brazilian government, and got the entire industry to agree not to buy soy from deforested areas. Nestlé might also have had a look at the Apple case — Apple went from dead last in our Electronics ranking to becoming a champion of removing toxic chemicals from their product range. Steve Jobs, like Nestlé, dug in at first, and it took a big push from Apple fans, sparked by our Green my Apple campaign, but Apple eventually did more than just remove the chemicals we had targeted. Today, with bold actions like leaving the US Chamber of Commerce over their climate policies, Apple is taking an activist stance.
Both companies went from zero to hero because they listened to the sustainability concerns of their customers.
Anyway, Dave Walsh, one of the Facebook troublemakers, suggested the other night in the pub that really someone ought to run the Downfall Meme over this one. I took a crack at one below which focuses on the social media missteps, and colored by recently having seen the amazing Adam Curtis documentary, “Century of Self” which I recommend to anyone interested in what happened to the social movement of the 60s, how Reagan and Thatcher got elected, and what Sigmund Freud has to do with the rise of corporate power and the creation of the persuasion industry. Ah, but I digress. We now return to our regularly scheduled rant:
Now that Kit Kat has called in a PR swat team, we’ll have to watch especially carefully to make sure they deliver real things and not schtick: an end to contracts with Sinar Mas and real efforts to ensure palm oil doesn’t endanger the Orangutan’s habitation with deforestation, or our own with climate change.