3 mins

Teaching the 3rd sector to play poker

By Steve Cook


Over the years Iceland had defied international opinion and public outcry to continue the hunting of whales – an increasingly endangered species.

It made no economic, environmental or social sense. There was no economic rationale as there is no market for the meat in Iceland with the blubber being discarded as being ‘unfit for human consumption’. Whales were supposed to be protected species making Iceland an international pariah in many circles. Furthermore, tourism had become a much more significant economic activity in Iceland than whaling could ever be.

Greenpeace activists in Europe had long played a crucial role in highlighting and blockading illicit shipments and mobilizing massive public support to block this bloody trade.

Yet still it continued.

The truth is that there was only so much a group of poorly-equipped activists in could do against such a powerful an opponent.

It was time to up the stakes, or at least be seen to be doing so.

We persuaded Greenpeace to redirect their efforts and attack them where it would hurt most – their economy.

Greenpeace turned its attention to the UK’s major retailers and food manufacturers who comprised the main market for Icelandic cod. We quickly put together a national poster campaign which graphically displayed the bloody fate of whales and tied it to their tacit support for whaling.

Under the guise of asking for the companies’ reaction to the campaign, we were able to arrange meetings with the heads of at least half a dozen organizations. We simply showed them the campaign and told them it would run the following month.

Not surprisingly, all the organizations on our radar were quick to see the harm it would cause to their brand. Panic ensued, and they promised to put pressure on their Icelandic suppliers, by threatening to buy their cod from alternative sources if they failed to pressurise their own government to change their stance on whaling.

Shortly afterwards, the International Whaling Commission voted in favour of a moratorium on commercial whaling to come into force. The Icelandic government didn’t officially object and was therefore obliged to abide by the new restrictions.

It was never intended that Greenpeace should run the campaign (to start with they didn’t have the budget), it was simply a bluff, or a big red herring if you prefer.




+44 7956 544943   |   stephen.cook@vstrategy.co.uk

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