Kit Kat Downfall

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.

4 thoughts on “Kit Kat Downfall”

  1. Bri­an

    hi there. I’m real­ly inter­est­ed to see your down­fall edit. I direct­ed the kitkat film for GP, with my direc­tion part­ner Michael watts and we’d love to see it in the bunker. I can under­stand your rea­sons for mak­ing it pri­vate, but in the grand scheme of the social media work­space it only real­ly stands to do the cam­paign a boost. Please bring it back (or at least share it with me on youtube — I’m don­shades )

    My adver­tis­ing friends tell me that the respon­se, the film and the GP cam­paign have become the new text­book case of how a viral film can affect share prices, and so turn heads that mat­ter in the real world.



  2. 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.”

    To you, me and most inter­net users this is not rock­et sci­ence. Paper­chase recent­ly made a sim­i­lar mis­take in pla­gia­ris­ing the work of an inde­pen­dent design­er. Their han­dling of the issue was a good exam­ple of how not to deal with social media issues. I blogged about it at but this Nestle respon­se takes the lamb kebab for how not to do things.

    We’ve boy­cotted Nestle for years any­way. This sim­ply rein­forces why they should be repeat­ed­ly chal­lenged about their ethics.

  3. Great arti­cle! Glad the KitKat / Nestle palm oil cam­paign has gone so well — I hope it leads to real pro­gress in reduc­ing defor­esta­tion.

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