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Greenpeace gets awesome

By embracing creativity, the global activist network has hit its advertising stride, Kate Magee explains.

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How to go viral

Joe Wade, director, Don’t Panic

1 Have strong emotional triggers. The Lego film evokes conflicting emotions. It has a sad song contrasting with the slightly comical use of Lego pieces being covered in oil.

2 Appeal to different audiences. We included characters from Game Of Thrones, Harry Potter and Halo to broaden the appeal of the viral to specific audiences. Fans tend to share content and participate in debates. This helps with engagement.

3 Use filmic techniques. Filming videos in interesting ways will also get fans engaged and increase shares. You need layers to make a film go viral because different aspects appeal to different audiences.

4 The soundtrack is important. We slowed down the original song from The Lego Movie. This gave it an ironic twist that people appreciated.

5 Use memes. Look at other virals and what has worked well. We used the well-known “a second a day” meme, which is popular with parents filming their children, to create the Save the Children film.

Greenpeace may be famous for its high-profile protests, but it is its powerful digital content that has been turning heads lately.

It filmed "Nemo", a clownfish, swimming in a blender to campaign against a shipping terminal being built in the Great Barrier Reef.

The organisation also teamed up with Mr President to dress up some of the internet’s star cats, including Princess Monster Truck and Spangles, as part of its activity to save tigers.

In Greenpeace’s most popular film, "everything is not awesome", a Lego model of the Arctic is seen drowning in "oil". It aimed to draw attention to the toy-maker’s partnership with the oil giant Shell. The film has already generated more than 5.5 million views online.

The films are successful because Greenpeace takes creativity seriously, Mel Evans, a campaigner for the organisation, argues.

"Everyone at Greenpeace is very involved in how we approach problems in a creative and imaginative way. We want all our communications – whether that is a direct action or talking to supporters – to be as creative as possible," she says.

Evans is part of a four-strong in-house art and editorial department that handles Greenpeace’s relationships with creative agencies. It also runs daily group creative sessions and works with campaign teams to develop ideas for new activity.

It takes ideas from any member of staff.

For the Lego film, Evans worked with Don’t Panic, the agency that was responsible for Save the Children’s "if London were Syria" viral.

It was inspired by the "believe" advertising campaign for the video game Halo 3, which used similar techniques of slow-motion, freeze-frame shots.

Evans believes the film holds real power due to our relationship with Lego: "Many people have an emotional attachment to Lego because they played with it when they were a child. So, even though you know it’s a plastic toy, it’s still very emotional."

A production team of six people spent three weeks building the Lego model from bricks bought on eBay.

The "oil" was made from a mixture of water and ink, with added glycerine to make it gloopy and more realistic. It was filmed live on a small camera attached to a wire.

A composer spent a week creating and recording a slower version of The Lego Movie song, Everything Is Awesome!!!, and transposed it into a minor key to give it a melancholic feel.

After launching on YouTube, the film was initially removed following Warner Bros’ complaint that the song breached its copyright, although it was later restored. In fact, the ban secured more press attention for the film.

Evans’ advice for powerful online content is to keep it short. "People watching something online want to know what’s going on quickly. Also, be daring and try something different," she says.

This article was first published on

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