When creativity shatters innocence

3032796-poster-p-1-shell-lego-greenpeace-commAt this year’s D&AD Awards five White Pencils were awarded, honouring examples of creativity for good.  One of the winners was the Greenpeace campaign Lego: Everything is not awesome by the agency Don’t Panic.

This was an extremely clever campaign that leveraged characters from the Lego movie, showing them slowly drowning in oil in order to leverage  the public’s support to persuade the Danish toymaker to cut its longstanding sponsorship arrangement with Shell, and to protest against Shell’s drilling in the Arctic. The campaign also re-worked the song Everything is Awesome from the movie, from an upbeat track to a downbeat cover.

During the three-month campaign, over one million people worldwide had emailed LEGO to ask it to end its partnership with Shell, resulting in LEGO caving in and ceasing its arrangement.

In his statement, LEGO president and CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp made it clear he did not appreciate his company’s brand being used to put pressure o Shell:  “The Greenpeace campaign uses the Lego brand to target Shell. As we have stated before, we firmly believe Greenpeace ought to have a direct conversation with Shell. The Lego brand, and everyone who enjoys creative play, should never have become part of this dispute between Greenpeace and Shell.”

What makes this campaign so powerful is precisely this. It used the company’s own brand as a stick to beat it with. It took a brand that represents values of childhood play and imagination and effectively robbed it of its innocence. There is something so completely jarring about this. But, in a world where we’ve become so immune to images of environmental disaster and destruction, this type of disruptive creativity can cut through.

It made me think of another campaign that shattered innocence in order to make a powerful point – a campaign for Barnardo’s that I actually helped to create.

UnknownThe campaign, called Giving Children Back Their Future, consisted of a series of press adverts that featured shocking images, such as a toddler clutching a bottle of whisky under the arches, another infant preparing to commit suicide, and the hardest hitting of all, a baby about to inject heroin, in order to portray the potentially horrific adulthoods that these children might face without Barnardo’s intervention.   We needed to do something radical at the time to dispel the pervasive belief that the charity still ran homes for orphans, which was an inaccurate and irrelevant legacy preventing a younger generation of potential donors connecting with the brand.

The campaign was incredibly successful, and represented the beginning of the rejuvenation of the charity and its repositioning as a dynamic, contemporary charity.

These campaigns are very different from each other, but there is arguably a similarity in how they both use a type of manipulative creativity to  jolt us out of our comfort zone by twisting archetypes of childhood innocence – Lego bricks and babies – in disquieting ways.

McQ Thinking is a boutique brand and communication consultancy that partners with the marketing and advertising communities. Find out more at www.mcqthinking.com.


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