CM Porter Novelli’s MD Angela Casey on Greenpeace’s Kit Kat attack

Angela Casey, managing director of CM Porter Novelli, discusses how Greenpeace has stuck two fingers up at Kit Kat using the power of social media.

This month Greenpeace has really taken the biscuit. Known for attention-grabbing stunts like scaling Big Ben, Mount Rushmore or stopping shipping in its tracks with the old Rainbow Warrior, the organisation has this time managed its most successful stunt from behind a computer screen.

From posting a film that reached 150,000 views within 20 hours, changing its logo to mimic the Kit Kat bar and kicking off chatter on Nestle’s Facebook page, a campaign has been fought simply through the power of the opinion. The campaign, we have all seen it by now, is aimed at stopping the use of palm oil from a company involved in illegal deforestation.

In the early days, support grew so fast that Nestle appeared to struggle with it. Apparently, unable to cope with the online explosion, the company tried some very clumsy tactics itself including trying to delete posts on the Facebook fanpage as fast as they appeared when, as many commentators have pointed out, it could have simply changed its settings. Furthermore, the company attempted to block YouTube views and blank out the Kit Kat logo, effectively trying to ban activity which, as we keen social networkers know, is the best way to fuel an online fire.

PR experts from Porter Novelli commentated only last week that the Nestle employee responding to some of the posts would appear to be junior and not toeing the corporate line, alongside using old-school tactics like simply issuing a statement.

Greenpeace remains in control: in the last week we have seen the popularity of the Kit Kat as a best-loved brand undergo a significant change for the worse and the campaign has reached far and wide. On Twitter alone, thousands of posts on the subject appeared and, as they have recently announced the proposed introduction of an embedded search function with the site, those posts are no longer instant hits – they will now remain there long after Nestle (we hope) has mended its ways.

For the PR industry, this means more than just no Kit Kats on the boardroom table for the time being. It means we all have to ensure our crisis policies include a large section in the crisis manual on online and social media. As we see reputations such as RBS and now Nestle crumple literally in hours, monitoring activity, and having a robust but appropriate contingency in place are essential parts of the PR machine now. Our problem remains that the rise of social and online media is, quite literally, an explosion with new tools, sites and apps emerging weekly. It will be keeping on top of these that will challenge us all, as well as finding the balance between openness and brand control.

So Greenpeace should be applauded for creating a stunt without the need for bungee jumping or hanging out of trees – just by harnessing the power of chatterers and bloggers. It says a lot that an organisation like Greenpeace is better equipped to work this medium than an international conglomerate like Nestle. It is a lesson for us all, both in reactive issues handling and in our proactive PR campaigns.

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