Hopenhagen: Design Activism as an Oxymoron


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Hopenhagen was an initiative by the International Advertising Association in support of the United Nations at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP-15) in Copenhagen December 2009. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon UN asked for help from the international advertising industry at Davos in January 2009. Hopenhagen took the form of an international public relations campaign culminating with an installation in the public square in central Copenhagen during the COP-15 summit.
Hopenhagen created a feel good façade where corporate sponsors were helping governments save the world.

Meanwhile, many of the thousands of climate activists congregated in Copenhagen for the summit found Hopenhagen so offensive that they made the campaign and installation itself an object of their protests. Hopenhagen is a classic example of corporate appropriation of people’s movements and the subsequent neutralization of the messages demanding structural change and social justice. As such, Hopenhagen embodies the conflict within the concept of design activism itself. While design functions predominately as a driver of consumption, consumerism, globalization and unsustainable behavior; activism is concerned with social injustice and environmental devastation. Activists struggle to combat the forces of globalization by forming social movements and resisting corporatisation of the commons and everyday life; designers are normally servant of corporate entities. These two forces are integrally at odds.

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Hopenhagen: Design Activism as an Oxymoron

  1. 1. www.eco-labs.org
  2. 2. Design Activism and Social Change Design History Society Annual Conference September 2011 Hopenhagen & Design Activism as an Oxymoron Jody Joanna Boehnert University of Brighton AHRC supported PhD candidate EcoLabs - www.eco-labs.orgwww.eco-labs.org
  3. 3. Hopenhagen was an initiative by the International Advertising Association in support of the United Nations at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP-15) in Copenhagen December 2009.www.eco-labs.org
  4. 4. Many of the climate activists in Copenhagen for the summit found Hopenhagen so offensive that they made the campaign and installation itself an object of their protests.www.eco-labs.org
  5. 5. Contents Introduction Why? History? What was Hopenhagen? Who was responsible? Who was against it? Exactly why Hopenhagen was a problem: 1. Co-opting people’s movements 2. Propaganda 3. De-politicization 4. Exclusion 5. Misinformation Lessons for design activists Conclusionwww.eco-labs.org
  6. 6. www.eco-labs.org
  7. 7. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon UN asked for help from the international advertising industry at Davos in January 2009. Bai Ki-moon described the campaign’s intentions: to create a strategy to harness all the brilliance, innovation and creativity that the marketing industry is known for…it should be THE Climate Change Communication Initiative. We hope it will be a game-changer. It will explain, educate and ask for global engagement leading to success in Copenhagen.www.eco-labs.org
  8. 8. Hopenhagen was unveiled at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival June 2009 followed by an “aggressive” international campaign. It was made by: • The UN • The International Advertising Association • Oglivy (a global adveristing and PR agency) • Oglivy Earth • Ketchum • Colle+McVoy • GroupM • Havas. • website by Zazengowww.eco-labs.org
  9. 9. What was Hopenhagen?www.eco-labs.org
  10. 10. www.eco-labs.org
  11. 11. Six million people signed the Hopenhagen petition on the website and become ‘citizens of Hopenhagen’.www.eco-labs.org
  12. 12. The international public relations campaign culminated massive outdoor presence on plastered in Copenhagenwww.eco-labs.org during the COP-15 Summit, December 2009.
  13. 13. The central focus was an installation in the main square with a combination of artwork, exhibition featuring ‘sustainability’ innovations and corporate advertising. A giant globe displayed projection updates on the progress of the summit. Exhibits demonstrated green technologies.www.eco-labs.org
  14. 14. ‘Best Green Third Sector Campaign’ - Green Awards 2010www.eco-labs.org
  15. 15. The explicit aim of the Hopenhagen campaign was to solve the environmental crisis: ‘Hopenhagen is a movement, a moment and a chance at a new beginning. The hope that in Copenhagen this December – during the United Nations Climate Change Conference – we can build a better future for our planet and a more sustainable way of life. It is the hope that we can create a global community that will lead our leaders into making the right decisions. The promise that by solving our environmental crisis, we can solve our economic crisis at the same time.’ The implicit aim of the Hopenhagen campaign was about displaying corporate partneres as good global citizens.www.eco-labs.org
  16. 16. An observer who was not aware of the dynamics and political struggles going on in the climate movement might be led to believe that Hopenhagen represented the interests of the people’s climate movements.www.eco-labs.org
  17. 17. Hopenhagen - December 2009 Climate Camp UK - Summer 2009www.eco-labs.org
  18. 18. www.eco-labs.org
  19. 19. A ‘Bottle of Hope’ advert conflated the social movements gathered in Copenhagen with Coca-Cola.www.eco-labs.org
  20. 20. Hannah Schling in Corporate Watch: The case of ‘Hopehagen’ illustrates how the triad of Corporation – PR Company – and NGO operates to create and then ‘engage’ with the ‘citizen consumer’ in the wake of effective global critiques and boycott movements. Summer 2011:17www.eco-labs.org
  21. 21. • Coke drained up to a million litres of water a day from the aquifer in Phichimada. Social movements resisted and closed the Kerala plans, Kerala High Power Committee ruled that Coca-cola was liable for $48 million damages. • Hopenhagen – change of PR strategy! Coke PR attempting to position itself as concerned corporate citizen, partnering with large NGOs to ‘raise awareness’.Suddenly Coke is speaking as experts on ‘water sustainability’ & Coke’s CEO was one of few key Fortune 500 CEOs at COP15! • Partnering with WWF – announced aim to go ‘water neutral’ in 2007, water efficientcy and offsetting (GREENWASH ARERT!) £15million to WWF river campaign, to conserve major rivers (but does nothing to conserve the water in the viscinity of the Coke plants).www.eco-labs.org Hannah Schling in Corporate Watch, Summer 2011:17
  22. 22. Conflict between explicit vs. implicit messaging.www.eco-labs.org
  23. 23. Oglivy Earth • Experts at avoiding greenwash: brands need our greenwash compass more than ever...www.eco-labs.org
  24. 24. NGO – WWF • Facilitates image management for corporate sponsors. • Greenwashing including Earth Day 2011 ‘Rooftop Rainforest’ with SkyTV Earth Day 2011 with SkyTV on the roof of Westfield shopping mall in Londonwww.eco-labs.org
  25. 25. Exactly why Hopenhagen was a problem: 1. Co-opting people’s movements 2. Top – down messaging parading as ‘engagement’ 3. Exclusion of critical voices 4. De-politicization of political material 5. Distortion of knowledge and misinformationwww.eco-labs.org
  26. 26. 1. Co-opting people’s movements (appropriating dissent) The campaign created divisive tension between those that wanted to make a climate movement and those who wanted to harness that energy to achieve corporate objectives.www.eco-labs.org
  27. 27. 2. Top – down messaging parading as ‘engagement’ While attempting to create the illusion of a bottom up initiative, advertising agencies designed Hopenhagen as a idealised vision of what a new climate movement might look like to deliver pre-packaged to the people. Top-down propoganda approaches audiences as passive consumers whose role is the purchase of slightly greener consumer product.www.eco-labs.org
  28. 28. 3. Exclusion of critical voices In an arena with contested information the capacity to input, analyze and debate is vital. Campaigns on social or environmental issues should open up space to allow for public debate rather than deliver corporate messaging.www.eco-labs.org
  29. 29. 4. De-politicization of political material Missing from the campaign and exhibition was any sense of the intense conflict and power struggle and contested nature of the policy opinions on topic of climate change.www.eco-labs.org
  30. 30. 5. Misinformation and distortion of information A climate campaign should help audiences make well-informed decision. Information about complex issues of climate change needs to reflect the fact that many topics such as bio-fuels, air travel and carbon trading are highly contested issues within environmental movements and it is disingenuous to ignore this debate.www.eco-labs.org
  31. 31. The Hopehagen campaign sent conflicting sets of messages and was highly divisive in an already heavily contested landscape. Social marketers lack a critical position about how corporate power perpepuates environmental problems. By ignoring these conflicts the Hopenhagen campaign itself was complicit with the systemic drivers of climate change.www.eco-labs.org
  32. 32. Possible lessons for communicators and designers navigating social and environmental campaigns? Lessons 1. Acknowledge the Political Neutrality or disengagement in a political context is a capitulation to (corporate) power. 2. Social Marketing Social marketing serves corporate agendas by functioning entirely within the framework of the market. 3. Design ≠ Design Industry Design as a field of practice is oriented towards more socially beneficial goals than the design industry. 4. No Logos Public spaces oriented towards education and informing political decision-making should be clear of advertising.www.eco-labs.org
  33. 33. Kristian Buus Jody Joanna Boehnert University of Brighton / EcoLabs jjboehnert@gmail.com Many thanks to Nancy Levinson for her comments on an early draft of this paper and to Hannah Schling from Corporate Watch for her article on Hopenhagen. Thanks to photographers Kristian Buus, Jan Slangen and Jonannesen. Last but not least, thanks to the climate activists who pitched these tents in protest at Hopenhagen. www.eco-labs.orgwww.eco-labs.org