Greenpeace’s Ice Climb – how to make your point

You’d need a shard of ice in your soul to have not been even slightly moved by yesterday’s incredible Ice Climb stunt – six Greenpeace activists scaling The Shard to protest Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic. It was designed to make people sit up and take notice – and it worked. The savetheartic.org site received over 290,000 unique visits in one day, with more than 60,000 of those visitors adding their signatures in support. So why, when so many stunts struggle to register a paragraph in The Metro, did the Ice Climb capture the attention (and hearts) of a cynical public?

There’s no formula to a successful stunt, but there are some things we can take from this masterclass in activism:

Make it iconic

Former Greenpeace campaigner Chris Rose talks about the importance of campaigning in pictures – it’s the images you create, he argues, that help a campaign stick in someone’s mind. Six women free climbing, tiny as ants up Europe’s tallest building, is an undeniably arresting visual. It helped that it was a cloudless summer’s day. It helped that The Shard is an aggressive blade of a building, adding to the sense of peril and drama. But mostly it showed that if you’re going to make a spectacle of yourself, you need to make it big, bold and unmissable.

Make it integrated

The climb was supported by a sophisticated media operation with a live stream from cameras mounted on the climbers’ helmets and a live radio commentary over it. As the climbers were reaching the top of the building there were more than 13,000 following the event in real time. And while the rolling ticker tape of signatures on a campaign website is nothing new, there was was a compelling urgency to watching signatures rise as the climbers did. Protesting may be as old as time itself, but smart use of new technology has an undeniable role to play in its success today.

Make it human

They were doing it for the Arctic, but Ice Climb was at heart a human story. The climbers weren’t superheroes. They admitted they were scared and they were getting tired. They were even fuelled by the most ordinary of snacks – cheese bagels. That only one of the women — 24 year old Wiola Smul— made it to the top, alone but for her Save The Arctic flag, added to the human drama. We genuinely cared about these women and their fate. As a consequence, we started caring about WHY they were doing what they were.

Ultimately this campaign can only be called a success if the world’s oil giant retreats from the Arctic. It seems impossible. But as yesterday showed, with enough passion and determination, even giants can be conquered.

Image courtesy of Greenpeace