Greenpeace give Kleenex PR guys something to cry about

Greenpeace again shows its ability to use new media for public relations purposes by hijacking the Kimberley-Clark Kleenex  campaign, (created by ad agency JWT) which involves members of the public sitting on a blue sofa and shedding a tear into a tissue as they share personal stories.   

Both the corporate and activist campaigns have involved  videos (Kleenex  US & UK versions).  Greenpeace activists used this opportunity to express their sadness about the company’s policy of using paper from ancient forests.  So far there have been 2,840 views of the Greenpeace video (in 2 days, which is about 10% of those viewing the official advert over the past couple of months). 

says the campaign has the “heavy-handed touch of big agency cluelessness” and finds it offensive for its manipulation.  But when faced by activists, asks “what could Kleenex (PR) people do? The entire promotion is all about providing people a platform to air their grievances.”

Exactly – which highlights the importance of asking “what if?” – wasn’t it predictable that someone would seek to “guerrilla” this campaign?  Did neither the in-house team nor consultancy Ketchum consider the possibility?  As the Greenpeace blog, says:

It’s an absolute gift when companies who are being less than kind to the environment have an advertising campaign that, with a few tweaks, can be subverted to expose their dodgy deeds.

Adweek believes this campaign is part of a trend in using real people following the success of the Dove “.”  One ad exec is quoted: “Everything is going towards being more and more authentic, including the use of real people in commercials.”  He fails to spot the irony in the inherent artifice of any advertising campaign.

Similarly the blog comments of marketing folk raving about the campaign lack any real world understanding – Fallon planning said:  “I think its a great approach for Kleenex and a good attempt to take some category whitespace in a commoditized product environment.” (whatever that might mean), whilst “anonymous” of JWT responds:

Here was a vision of a product that wasn’t just a snot rag – it was an enabler of what makes us most human. It would take care of the symptoms of emotion so we could feel more deeply and experience life more fully.

The Greenpeace message regarding deforestation is more real world in my view than attempts to present a dirty tissue as an enabler of human emotional feelings.

I’m sure the campaign will be hailed a success – despite the actions of Greenpeace – although arguably the winners of the campaign are the Missouri band which has gained international attention as its track is used in the campaign.

[original source for this post:

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

2 thoughts on “Greenpeace give Kleenex PR guys something to cry about”

  1. The Greenpeace hijacking of the Kleenex ‘Let it Out’ campaign was absolutely brilliant!

    The attempt of big corporations to hijack, hip youth culture via youtube etc is quite frankly niave in the extreme and will ultimately only deliver relatively short term gains for large multinationals.

    By trying to link the product to emotions Kimberely-Clark exposed their Achilles heel, namely if you want people to really ‘Let it Out’ about how they feel about anything, then you better be prepared for the truth, as oppossed to your version of it!

    As someone working in PR I would have to ask where was the risk management ahead of this campaign? This might have identified the need to completely refocus the whole approach, not only to promoting the product but also, crucially to the sourcing of raw materials to produce it.

  2. Mick – thanks, I think you are absolutely right. I’m amazed by how many marketing-led campaigns that involve major PR agencies don’t include any risk management. Maybe they all get hyped up by the creative idea and don’t like to mention possible downsides, which, as you say, is just plain naive. Or, they see only the income – forgetting that good PR planning should include budget for such counsel.

    And of course, in this case, the strategic counsel that PR should provide relates to addressing the raw materials issue.

    Like you, I remain cynical of big brands and agencies getting involved in social media that they clearly don’t understand and seek to exploit. They just don’t get that the very people they target will relish the opportunity to give them a bloody nose.

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