Greenpeace is an ecological and pacifist international organisation, economically and politically independent, that does not accept donations or pressure from governments, corporations or political parties. Greenpeace “defend(s) the natural world and promote(s) peace” (Greenpeace, 2008). The funding for its campaigns depends entirely on voluntary contributions from members and sympathizers.
Because Greenpeace is an NGO, it cannot invest large amounts of money in its communication activities because it would be accused of using the money from donations of members and supporters for marketing, advertising and public relations activities; rather than for pacifist purposes and to fight for the environment. However, it does communicate itself and although it could improve, it seems to do it quite well because it is a world wide known organisation. Greenpeace communicates to its stakeholders – employees, customers, the public, authorities, etc – mainly through its website.
The UK Greenpeace website can be accessed at (http://www. greenpeace. org. uk/). The website has a clear and easy-to-follow layout and it not only has all the information about the organisation available, but it also contains press releases, videos, reports, what the media has been saying about them, and slideshows, amongst others. On its international website (http://www. greenpeace. org/international/) there is access to photographs, audio files and even the Greenpeace TV, only accessible through the web. As it can be seen, Greenpeace is a web-based organisation in terms of its communication activities.
It therefore has a special way of communicating, given it limits its communications to the internet, rather than, as other organisations, television, radio, magazines, and other forms of mass media communication. However, this does not mean Greenpeace does not follow some of the conventional communication theories. The hypodermic needle theory, also known as the Silver Bullet Model (1982) after Schramm, implies “mass media has a direct, immediate and powerful effect on its audiences” (University of Twente Communication Studies, 2004).
It suggests that the mass media could influence a large group of people by ‘injecting’ their messages. However, there is no evidence this theory works in practice. Greenpeace seems to have a powerful effect over its audiences, given it has mobilised large numbers of people along its trajectory for its different campaigns. For instance, Greenpeace mobilised hundreds of people to strip naked on a glacier in protest for global warning. On the contrary, it is difficult to be sure if the people who participated in this campaign were directly influenced by the messages sent by Greenpeace or if it was the result of something else.
In terms of its audience, Greenpeace directs its campaigns or tries to communicate with people concerned with the environment, as well as people who are not as concerned. The Shannon and Weaver Model (1984) suggests that communication should include six elements, including a source, an encoder, a message, a channel, a decoder and a receiver (Underwood, M. 2008). It can be seen from the diagram that a ‘noise source’ could interfere with the communication. This does not refer to a physical noise source, but to a semantic noise. Examples include distraction, misunderstanding or emphasising the wrong part of the message.
It could be argued that the agenda-setting theory is one of the most important communication theories for this particular organisation. “Agenda-setting is the creation of public awareness and concern of salient issues by the news media” (University of Twente Communication Studies, 2004). Greenpeace, as an NGO is not only trying to get as many donations as possible from its members and sympathizers, but also it is trying to create awareness amongst the public concerning issues that affect everyone, such as climate change, global warming and a long etcetera. Agenda-setting refers mainly to the importance of an issue; priming tells us whether something is good or bad(…)The media have primed the audience about what a news program looks like, what a credible person looks like, etc” (University of Twente Communication Studies, 2004). In this sense, Greenpeace uses priming, because it not only informs its audience about environmental issues, but it also exposes a view on the subject and tells its audience it should act and how it should act to solve the particular issue.
Another communication theory is the Two Step Flow Theory. It was first introduced by Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson and Hazel Gaudet in 1944. The theory says that information from the media moves in two stages. Firstly, opinion leaders, who pay close attention to the mass media and its messages, receive the message; and secondly, these opinion leaders pass their own interpretations as well as the media content to other individuals, who could be opinion leaders themselves in smaller social groups (University of Twente Communication Studies, 2004).
It would seem logical that Greenpeace makes use of this theory in its communication activities and possibly it is the most effective of its communication activities, especially for the announcement of campaigns or protests against a particular issue. Greenpeace has in its website a large number of video clips and photographs available as part of its advertising campaigns. They can also be seen in the youtube website. The video clips include animations (http://www. youtube. com/watch? v=clIhgIhCfqM&feature=related), small films or short stories (http://www. youtube. com/watch? v=R5l8iUNbLrI), documentary videos (http://www. youtube. om/watch? v=NHh3QaWKbSg&feature=PlayList&p=1E11A42011444D65&index=1), and some of the activities or protests they have been involved in (http://www. youtube. com/watch? v=0RVp8Q6H9e0&feature=PlayList&p=6DDC8BA27E82C952&index=2). Most of the videos are entertaining to watch and arguably quite effective. It could be said that they make use of the Uses and Gratifications Theory (1970s). This theory, which attempts “to explain how individuals use mass communication to gratify their needs” (University of Twente Communication Studies, 2004), suggests that people make certain ‘uses’ of texts and obtain certain emotional ‘gratifications’ from them.
Gratifications such as information, satisfying curiosity and interest, helping to carry out social roles and, in some cases, entertainment. However, although Greenpeace seems to put effort, time and money into its marketing, advertising and public relations campaigns, it does not seem to be a hundred per cent effective; because there are still very large numbers of individuals who seem not to care about the message being promoted by Greenpeace, not even politicians. So what can Greenpeace do to make its message more effective and to get as many people as possible involved with the organisation?
In my opinion, it is not a question of the organisation not having appropriate and effective communication activities. The problem is that Greenpeace defends a cause that although it affects all of us, not all of us agree with what they say and what they do. Therefore, it is difficult to make improvements. On the other hand, it can always improve and sometimes the message needs to be repeated over and over again; so with more time, with more emphasise on the issues that the organisation defends and with more and more promotion of what they do and what they defend, the organisation can improve its communication.
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