Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg, or simply Greta, does not need introductions. The Swedish 13-year-old has in fact become one of the best-known faces in the campaign for sustainable development and against climate change. Her communication, which began with regular demonstrations every Friday in front of the Riksdag in Stockholm with the slogan Skolstrejk för klimatet ("climate school strike"), has become irresistible over time, leading her not only to meet all the big names in the world, including the Pope, but also to lead large street demonstrations throughout Europe and to publish the best seller written with her family "Our house is on fire". Naturally, her very inflexible positions have divided public opinion. To better understand the Greta phenomenon we spoke to Paolo Iabichino, former creative director of Ogilvy & Mather.
How can Greta's success be explained from a communicative standpoint?
I don't think I'm wrong in saying that Greta lacks a real communicative direction. She is not someone's tool. That's why it upsets me that a little girl can become an icon without using social networks and without building an influencer role. I can't explain how it can reach this level and this size.
But her actions will have strengths that explain her success …
Her message is for sure very disruptive, even if carried out in a somewhat naive manner. The main creed, the key to her communicative success, depends on her obsessively putting herself in front of Parliament every Friday. Add to this the fact that Greta is extremely polarizing, either you fall in love with her or not. Although this is a product of the type of communication we have become accustomed to.
Why is Greta polarizing?
Hers is a communication that entrusts everything to empathy. The alternative would be to stop and think for a minute longer about the things we see. To go beyond the catchphrases, whether negative or positive, and force us to come to terms with a deeper perspective.
In fact, the main criticism that is carried against Greta is that her slogans do not take into account the complexity of the topics they covers …
Yes, but I don't think it's necessarily useful to look for complexity. When I talk about depth I refer to something simpler. It would take very little. Go beyond the eye of the news. Today memes have taken over. And Greta is a living meme, she has all the characteristics of the meme. If we don’t go beyond that, there is no chance to go beyond the conflict.
But do memes, slogans and polarization really bring real results?
From the point of view of the result I would like to say that even Matteo Salvini, with a communication made of slogans, meme and polarizing, achieves results. If this has become the only way to unite large groups of people, we must come to terms with it. Judging it as a negative phenomenon is not enough. This is the benchmark. What does not fit in with this benchmark is considered an elite and therefore unacceptable. The only thing we can do is learn the rules of the game and try to use them well. And Greta has managed, all things considered.
Regarding this elite Giuliano Ferrara on Il Foglio, reporting the thoughts of the French philosopher Marcel Gauche, underlined a curious aspect of the environmental question: people are taxed and forced by laws to behave virtuously from an environmental point of view when in reality the majority of the real pollution is carried out by the elites, who are the same ones who then impose this green morality …
It is absolutely so. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Greta has been criticized mainly by the elites.
However, according to Ferrara this is a crucial point of the criticism of Greta. While the Swedish girl speaks of climate, France is burning because of the increase in the price of fuel …
Yes, certainly there are great contradictions in the debate regarding the environment but I am convinced that in reality there is another substantial question.
Which is that?
What we are facing in the end is a great movement of the people. But we don’t consider with the necessary care the fact that in front of a moving mass there are lots of small individual cells that are activated, sensitized. What is happening is that we have large communities that are more responsible today on the environmental issue but that are activated from an individual point of view. Having said that, it’s clear that the Greta phenomenon is superficial and lacking in complexity. But at the same time we find ourselves with a large majority of sensitized and empowered individuals.
But without knowledge the risk is that sensitized citizens can fight the wrong battles. As in the case of palm oil. All companies ran to eliminate it from their products. A great movement which, however, it turned out, has made a crusade against an ingredient that is neither harmful nor toxic and much less polluting than its substitutes …
We are facing a new wave of consumers. They set the line for companies. And this is an important fact. The fact that this gives positive or negative results is impossible to establish. What we can say is that today the companies' agenda must look to sustainability because 80% of consumers wants it. This is according to Ipsos in one of its latest reports. This Greta phenomenon has nothing to do with it. It came later. Indeed, perhaps we could say that Greta is the product of this new awareness.