Barbie discovers Greenpeace don’t “play responsibly”

When executives get together to identify and prioritise their organization’s issues, it is very easy to forget that OTHER PEOPLE may decide what’s important for you.

Last week saw a good example when Greenpeace targeted toymaker Mattel as part of its campaign against Indonesian rainforest timber allegedly used for needless packaging. 

Protesters draped a four-storey high banner from the roof of Mattel’s Californian headquarters depicting a frowning Ken doll with the message: “Barbie: it’s over. I don’t date girls that are into deforestation.”  LA Times reported that at the same time a protester dressed as Barbie was arrested nearby driving a front end skip loader painted in trademark Barbie pink.

While photo opportunity stunts are a tried and true Greenpeace tactic, more importantly the campaign took to the social media, starting with a clever and very funny YouTube animated interview with Ken (already recording over 200,000 hits).  Greenpeace activists also posted rainforest messages on the official Barbie facebook page (which were quickly deleted by the company). But amazingly the twitter handle @barbie was not owned by Mattel, and a mock twitter account was launched, quickly followed by a separate Greenpeace twitter parody @ken_talks.

Needless to say, the campaign is not really about Mattel or its plastic supermodel. The high profile Barbie stunt is part of the long-running Greenpeace campaign against the destruction of Indonesian rainforest and the impact on wildlife, especially endangered Orangutans.  The ultimate target is Singapore-based Asia Pulp & Paper, and Greenpeace hopes to shame APP customers into canceling contracts with the company.

LA Times said Greenpeace has already waged successful campaigns against such global corporations as McDonald’s, Kimberly-Clark, Nestlé, Unilever and Burger King over links to deforestation in their supply chains. However, Mattel seemed  inadequately prepared. Facing an assault on their iconic product, Mattel said they had been talking to Greenpeace for months regarding paper-sourcing.

“While we appreciate Greenpeace bringing this important matter to our attention, we were disappointed that they took such an inflammatory and unconstructive approach, considering the open channels of communications we had already established.” Accusing Greenpeace of not “playing responsibly” the company directed people to a  wordy statement on its corporate website about their corporate responsibility efforts and packaging improvements, emphasising that they do not support deforestation.

Yet despite admitting they had known about the issue for months, only the next day did the company announce that they had directed their packaging suppliers to stop sourcing pulp from Sinar Mas/APP while they investigated the deforestation allegations. Mattel maybe did the best they could in the circumstances, but it is a stark reminder that companies don’t determine their own issue agenda, and that effective issue management demands planning for all probable contingencies. Greenpeace is not always right, but they are always persistent, and their record gives potential targets ample warning of what they are likely to do.


About managingoutcomes

Issue and crisis management expert
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