Last week, six members of Greenpeace ascended their way into the history books during fifteen hours of sheer sweat, muscle and no doubt emotion, as they scaled The Shard to draw attention to Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic. It was a bold, inspiring, beautiful action, that did the thing that all great stunts do: for a brief moment, took our breath away.
Stunts like this have always divided opinion, and in an age where everyone has the microphone of social media available to them, the multifarious views are more apparent than ever. For some the women climbing the Shard were heroes, for others they were attention seeking loons. But what has really caused debate is whether a stunt like this actually has a long term impact worthy of the huge amount of investment and preparation that goes into setting it up?
It’s true that the charity took ownership of the media agenda, attracting tens of thousands of new sign-ups for its campaign, and that #iceclimb got trending on Twitter. Shell has presumably experienced quite significant brand damage, and released a very half-hearted statement that received minimal media exposure and did little to offset concerns about their actions in the Arctic.
Will this all add up to significant change where it matters: in the board rooms of the City and the halls of Westminster? Harnessing the power of social media through an action like this is a great means of amplifying a cause. The stunt has laid a great foundation for change. But it will require sustained action to bring about a real shift in policy. The people who make a difference are those that move behind the scenes: the senior key opinion leaders who have the ears of the rich and powerful. Garnering their support is a fine art, and more often than not it rests on private, personal exchanges, as well as headline grabbing stunts.