Absolute heroes of Marketing: Greta Thunberg

Here at STO, we are not afraid to admit that we can learn something from a 16 year old. (By Lydia Neave and Graeme Jordan).

By anyone’s standards, the achievements of Greta Thunberg have been exceptional. But she has achieved things that are very evidently essential to us all, in a relatively short space of time, in an area in which others have struggled to gain traction.

From seemingly having no power, to beginning to change the world (it really is as stark as this, as we shall set out).  If we were to tell you that we could get you 6.8 million engaged social media followers within a year…

unprecedented numbers attending your events, global brand awareness, connections with some of the world’s most powerful people, and changes in policy that suit your aims, would you be interested? Because Greta has achieved all of those things from a standing start.

She has appealed to people across the generations, and across cultural and political boundaries. And on Friday 20th September 2019, a global protest was staged, involving millions, all united in the cause.

From a UK point of view alone, she has impacted popular culture, and consumer thinking, and persuaded a Conservative government to declare a ‘Climate Emergency’. By definition, that’s just not what conservatives usually do.

Whilst leading a ‘grass-roots’ movement, she has the ear of the world’s most powerful people. Usually this two-pronged strategy of grass-roots and establishment is not possible. Just ask our own current ‘esteemed leader’. Or any of the populist groups that are otherwise in the ascendancy.

The planet is not yet safe from destruction. But we will say this: We would not risk our money betting against this incredible communicator and influencer.

Greta Thunberg: A Case Study of Marketing Success

 A teenager from Sweden, Greta is a climate change activist, famous for raising global awareness of the climate crisis. In August 2018, at the age of 15, she skipped school to demonstrate outside parliament, where her ‘School Strike for the Climate’ began attracting media attention.

After Greta later addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, student strikes took place widely, which were globally shared through the hashtag #FridaysForFuture. On one day alone 1.6 million people in 133 countries participated in a strike inspired by her action, and by May of 2019 her Twitter following had grown by 4000% to 612K and now it’s at 1.9 million! But only 12 months ago she had no audience.

How has she achieved such success?

Greta is known for her captivating communication style, and her authoritative, matter-of-fact manner. Marketers can learn a few lessons from the way she communicates. Every time she presents, it is immediately obvious that she speaks with clarity and coherence. Her message requires no interpretation, it is crystal clear. Take the following quote as an example:

“We are right now in the beginning of a climate and ecological crisis, and we need to call it what it is: an emergency.”

It would be almost impossible to misunderstand the message and the urgency that she is trying to convey. Consistency is another important lesson. For example, across Greta’s communication channels she demonstrates uniformity, and never fails to uphold that authoritative, blunt style of communication for which she is known. Examples include her regular updates on Twitter and lyrics in her musical debut on a single by The 1975, both of which demonstrate the clear narrative.

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The power of the message is also worth mentioning. The fact that she is someone with seemingly no power; a child, who would normally be viewed as dependent – not having a stake in society in her own right – makes it all the more impactful. Exchange by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, commented on how powerful it is to be called a liar by a child, in their ‘How Greta Thunberg got the World Talking’ blog. She has taken it upon herself to call out the leaders of the world for their inaction, which we can no longer allow to continue. And this has made a huge amount of difference already.

Greta’s urgency has turned a previously low-priority issue into one which is now central. The odds against her are not insignificant. It has never yet been politically expedient to offer ‘green’ policies. There are the combined forces of ignorance, economic dogma, and perceived more important priorities. But she has made it unavoidable to begin to act. Even the major establishments know when they are up against something over which they cannot prevail.

A key factor in completely disarming opponents is the fact that she cannot, with any validity, be seen as having any motive other than the obvious. There is a lot to be said here for honesty and integrity, and how this serves to strengthen a cause.

From a psychological point of view, an examination of her discourse reveals that Greta has got the world listening through the use of fear appeals. These communication techniques involve motivating behaviour by arousing fear. In this case, justified fear – which makes it all the more impossible to resist. What she talks about is grave, but frank. She delivers the terrifying facts, and provides the deadlines:

“Either we choose to go on as a civilization, or we don’t.” 

At the same time however, she is able to retain a level of positivity: We are of course flawed; but it does not necessarily have to be a fatal flaw:

“Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around.”

This has great power in discouraging any defeatist mindsets.

Greta also praises anyone for any positive effort, on any scale. She appears to understand that positive reinforcement is a great motivator of further change.


Staying the course despite resistance is the final lesson: Unfortunately, Greta has been met with some hostility in the media. Critics (in attacks that reflect badly on their motives) have referred to her, for example as ‘deeply disturbed’.

She has shown restraint beyond her years, and not let it hinder her efforts. In fact she tweeted that her Aspergers makes her different, but ‘being different is a superpower’. In responses that showed just how effective Greta has been, many showed her their support and voiced that personal attacks on a child activist indicate feelings of denial, or threat.

Too early to write a conclusion?

Now the world is awake to the climate crisis and Greta has the spotlight. Governments and world leaders have no excuse for not attempting to keep global temperatures from rising, to avoid the devastating consequences that Greta is so vocal about.

As far as being different being a superpower, we could not agree more!

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