Speaking at Monotype’s brand conference in London last week, Greenpeace Art and Editorial Co-ordinator Marcela Teran explained how “brand jamming” Coca-Cola put added pressure on the company to rethink its recycling strategy
The devastating effect of waste plastic in our oceans has been well documented. It’s estimated that 90 percent of seabirds have plastic in their stomach and the Pacific is now home to a mountain of waste roughly the size of France.
BBC series Blue Planet II helped raise awareness of the scale of the problem last year with an episode that showed birds eating plastic and dolphins whose milk had been contaminated by pollutants in the water. News and entertainment site Lad Bible also launched a campaign to have the aforementioned mountain of waste recognised as an official nation (a move that would mean world leaders would have a duty to help clear it up).
Greenpeace has also been raising awareness of the issue through its End Ocean Plastics campaign. The campaign was launched to educate people about ocean plastics and put pressure on global brands and governments to address the problem.
Creative agency Lovers worked with Greenpeace to create a visual identity for End Ocean Plastics. It also worked with the charity to create ads directly targeting Coca-Cola. The campaign identity was inspired by a visit to the Thames Estuary: Lovers collected waste bottles and plastics that had washed up on the shore and took items back to their studio, where they were hosed down and photographed.
“It’s weird looking at these things up close. It’s almost like a kind of disgusting brand soup that has all of these strange, morphed, mutated versions of the brands that we see on the high street,” said Lovers founder Alex Ostrowski, speaking at Monotype’s brand conference in London last week.
The agency decided to use images of these objects to show a much less appealing side to plastic packaging. It also created a “distressed” typeface inspired by the distorted type on battered labels. The typeface can be used at a range of sizes and contains contextual alternates (multiple versions of each letter) to ensure that every character looks unique – even if the same letter appears more than once in the same word.
As Greenpeace’s campaign materials are created in-house, Lovers put together a toolkit of colours, fonts and images for creative and editorial teams to use. The agency also created some best practice examples of press ads, posters and print communications. The campaign was rolled out in print and outdoors as well as on social media.
The next phase was to target the Coca-Cola group. For each of its campaigns, Greenpeace will identify a particular brand to lobby – “one that if we target it might [have an impact] in the whole sector,” said Teran. Greenpeace claims that Coca-Cola produces around 100 billion plastic bottles per year – making it one of the biggest producers of single-use plastic packaging in the world.
Greenpeace asked Lovers to create visual assets that would connect Coke to the issue of waste plastic: “We wanted to make the connection between this massive mess and the companies that are behind it,” said Teran. “[Plastic] is a manmade product and there are companies that are profiting from selling this stuff, so they should also be held accountable for it.”
Lovers created a parody of Coke’s logo and its famous ‘wave’ and consulted with Greenpeace’s legal team to ensure it wouldn’t be classed as an infringement of the company’s intellectual property. The parody logo was used alongside images of dead seabirds and marine life and the message “Don’t let Coke choke our oceans”. It was featured on posters as well as newspaper ads, flyers and postcards. Greenpeace also produced stickers and t-shirts using Lovers’ designs.
It’s an aggressive tactic but one that Greenpeace has used successfully in the past. In 2014, the charity released a parody video attacking Lego‘s partnership with oil company Shell. The ad prompted one million people to write to Lego asking the company to end the partnership – and Lego eventually conceded.
Teran believes this approach – which she describes as “brand jamming” – can be an effective way to make global organisations take notice of a campaign. It can be particularly effective in encouraging the public to lobby companies on Greenpeace’s behalf and brands are usually quick to respond if they think their own assets are being used against them. “The Coca-Cola brand is familiar to everyone. [The company] had just invested a huge amount of money in their logo and branding that was going to cover all of their products … so we wanted to hit them where it hurts,” she said.
“We are a small organisation – or at least small in comparison to Coca-Cola – so we know that one of the best tactics we have is to use their brand architecture, to use their logo, their brand identity and connect that to the issue they are responsible for.”
Greenpeace teams around the world created posters, stickers, sculptures and projections targeting Coke. The charity also created a parody ad in the run up to Christmas reminding people of how many plastic bottles Coke produces each year. In summer, it invited people to share images of Coke bottles they had found washed up on beaches on social media using the hashtag “#ShareaCoke”.
The campaign didn’t attract as much media attention as Greenpeace’s Lego ad – which quickly went viral – but in August, Coke released an ad stressing its commitment to using sustainable packaging.
The ad was charming (and was created using recycled packaging) but Coca-Cola GB’s tweet about it prompted a long list of angry comments from users asking why the company wasn’t doing more to reduce the amount of plastic it produced each year. Its social media team spent the next few hours responding to criticisms and repeating the company’s commitment to making sure packaging is “as sustainable as possible”. (You can see the tweet and response to it here.)
Since the launch of End Ocean Plastics, over half a million people have signed a Greenpeace petition calling on Coke to do something to address the issue of ocean plastics. Greenpeace says thousands more also emailed Coca-Cola’s CEO and posted on the company’s social media channels.
Coca-Cola has since announced a global initiative to collect and recycle a bottle for every bottle it sells. It has also pledged to use 50% recycled material by 2030. Greenpeace claims the strategy does not go far enough – Evian has pledged to use 100% recycled material by 2025 – but praised Coke’s pledge to use more recycled packaging.
In a statement announcing the strategy, Coca-Cola’s CEO acknowledged that plastic was “choking” our oceans – language that Teran believes originates from Greenpeace’s campaign. “I think we tapped into something visceral with that language,” she said.
Coca-Cola’s recycling initiative was no doubt prompted by a number of factors – including a growing awareness around the world of the need to reduce our plastic consumption and not just Greenpeace’s campaign. But the charity’s “brand jamming” strategy certainly placed some added pressure on Coca-Cola.
Teran says the campaign has achieved Greenpeace’s objective of making Coca-Cola acknowledge their role in the issue and the need to do address it: “there are still some things they need to improve – but they’re in conversations with us now which is what we wanted,” she said.