Nestle vs Greenpeace

March 21, 2010 at 6:37 pm (Public Relations) (, , , , , , )

I was interested in what NGOs can do, to humiliate a brand to influence change of behavior. PRWeek featured this article online, which is a very current example. Greenpeace launched an online PR attack against Nestle because it has been accused of getting palm oil from and Indonesian company that allegedly engages in illegal deforestation.
In the viral video “Give The Orang-Utang A Break Nestle – Greenpeace’s anti Kit-Kat ad” Greenpeace uses quite strong, sometimes graphic images, to demonstrate how this issue threatens wildlife. The video is not the end of the story though. Nestle is having difficulty reacting on Facebook and Twitter as the article reported. Many see responses as a PR trick, which causes even more public outrage.
Kerry Gaffney associate director, from Porter Novelli suggested that there should be some changes made to their response tactics.  She suggested  to change the person behind the Twitter responses to someone more in tune with the corporate tone. She also advised to address the main issues on a Youtube video.

What is missing for me out of all of this, is the lack of emphasis on taking responsibility for the actual problem, or if Nestle is doing something about it than publicize that. As I surfed around on Google, the tops result where from Greenpeace side. They must be doing something Nestle isn’t at this point. It seems to me that the only way out for Nestle is admit their responsibility to get another supplier who is checked. After this is done publicize that they are changing.

Seemingly not trying to make changes just makes matters worse for them. Its bad enough in the current media climate to be connected with damaging the environment, even if this happens by mistake. Not taking fast action  (especially media wise) can do long-term damage to the product and the brand.

Nestlé faces Facebook crisis over Greenpeace rainforest allegations PR Week Online

Give The Orang-Utang A Break Nestle – Greenpeace’s anti Kit-Kat ad



  1. Kerry Gaffney said,


    Excellent post and a different take to one that some of the more established PR practicioner’s had taken. You’re right in that the missing piece is for Nestle to actually change its actions However it’s a company used to controversy – there has been a call to boycott its actions in Africa with breastfeeding mothers, since about the 70s. This makes it more amazing that it doesn’t have a well established response policy for social media.

    The issue last week was that the way the FB page was handled led to more people becoming aware of the video and of Nestle’s use of palm oil. Again the Greenpeace campaign against Nestle has been running since 2007, how many people were aware of it before last week? The strange thing is as much as it seemed to be the only thing I saw talked about on Twitter last Friday, it didn’t even make the UK trending words list on Twitter. Yet due to the make-up of those people and because journalists pay attention to what those people are interested in, it made the mainstream papers. If the Nestle FB page hadn’t provided such a rich source for discussion and commentary, this might not have been the case.

    So what should Nestle pay attention to first? The policy that was at the heart of the issue or the way that it reacts to issues in future as that is what significantly upped the awareness levels?

  2. Lena said,

    I personally think the PR Week article is a joke, one person saying that the disaster on the facebook page is due to a junior who doesn`t know what he`s doing and they should rather employ a senior to handle this.
    Blaming a lack of experience is ridiculous, since it`s us young professionals who have the most experience with social media and who can clearly see what went wrong in this case. It`s the older, established people who just won`t realize the power of social media and how to engage in it.

  3. Kerry Gaffney said,

    Hello again,

    I was actually very careful to say that the person appeared to be junior, and didn’t assume that they actually were. Perhaps I should have used the word inexperienced instead but I think people would have then assumed I still meant a young person, which I didn’t. I meant someone who was clearly not equipped to deal with the growing crisis and through their inexperience made it worse.

    Blaming lack of experience is not ridiculous, particular in this case when the manner in which the FB storm was handled caused it to grow. If an experienced person had been at the helm then perhaps the snarky comments would not have been made and people would not then have visited the page just to see how badly it was being handled.

    Finally, assuming that older established people don’t understand social media is just as blinkered and prejudiced as saying that all young professionals do automatically get social media. It very much depends on the individual, their interests and experiences.

    I am curious though, how would assess how it was handled and what would you have done differently, or advised Nestle to do?

  4. ckarol10 said,

    I agree with Kerry they did choose the wrong person. The other thing is experience comes with time and opportunity not with age or the number of classes we have on a topic or doing a university project. It is though to react to real life comments (especially attracts). Handling the social media part of it is more of a skill (not an experience) that can be learned at any age and the best PR professionals would know it through updating their professional knowledge (lifelong learning). The experience comes in handy when deciding what to say to critics. I would have put a skilled social media person together with a person with experience in counteracting media attacks. If you don’t have it all pool the necessary resources.

    Finally to answer your question Kelly: from a PR perspective I would focus on the policy changes and keep updating on that because I think the right real time action gives credibility. I would also draw the lessons in the hope to give better response in the future.

  5. Soyini said,

    Lena is right it doesn’t sound like a junior wrote on that page. Probably a mid-level PR person.

    The funny thing is I’m sure there are people at Nestle who know what to do, why their advice wasn’t taken I don’t know.

    Also I bet Nestle has an explaination for why they’ve been using Palm Oil from Indonesia and have probably already made arrangements to change their suppliers. Instead of being snarky on Facebook, that’s the information they should have communicated to the public. And no I’m not going on your website to read a long boring CSR report. Summerise the info into easily digestible bits.

  6. Lena said,


    I agree that not every young person has necessarily an understanding of social media. Of course a person with experience and expertise in both social media AND public relations/crisis management would have been the right choice for a facebook moderator in this case. I just thought the junior/senior argument was a little inappropriate, but I remember it being a quote in the article.

    In terms of what I would have done, I would have chosen an approach much like British Airways did to handle its crisis: A youtube video featuring the CEO addressing the issue (instead of a corporate press release), posted on the facebook and the twitter account, would have been a good start. Especially on the twitter account they should have tried to establish a dialogue instead of just posting links to the corporate website.
    The use of palm oil has been an issue in the past and will be one in the future, Nestle has now the chance to distinguish itself from other manufacturers and start reducing the use of palm oil. Unfortunatly it seems like the media attention is now focused on Nestle`s facebook crisis more than on the actual issue.

  7. ckarol10 said,

    yes, the FB did distract the focus of the issue.
    I agree that FB, Twitter and Youtube would be important tools to communicate the changes, but press releases need to be available. The more channels the better. Different approach is appropriate to journalists than to consumers. Its all about tailoring communication around stakeholders.

    Soyini, you have a point there. Maybe part of the problem is outside the PR department. We don’t actually know what was done, so maybe they are in the process of tackling the supplier issue, maybe not. If not that’s not something that would be supported/allowed by decision makers to communicate. On the other hand if yes there are steps taken, than its about time for them to come out and talk about it.

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