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  • John Pabon

Should Just Stop Oil Just Stop?


They're at it again!

This past month, Just Stop Oil protesters have defaced at least three different works of art. The most notable has been Van Gogh's Sunflowers at the National Gallery. During this protest, two activists threw tomato soup all over the priceless piece (it's actually worth about US$133 million), complaining about food insecurity.

Beyond the sheer irony of it all, do these shock-and-awe protests actually work? To start to answer that question, let's look at the granddaddy of all confronting activist organisations, PETA.

A study by the University of Queensland found that, at least in the case of PETA, the ads are having an adverse impact on the message. The trio of researchers measured if using sexualized imagery, as is done in many PETA ads, actually sold the same way it does in traditional advertising. In their words, “…is it effective to advertise an ethical cause using unethical means?” They studied responses by college-aged males in the United States and Australia, two of PETA’s key market segments, to sexualized and non-sexualized PETA imagery. They concluded:

"Intentions to support the ethical organization were reduced for those exposed to the sexualized advertising, and this was explained by their dehumanization of the sexualized women, and not by increased arousal."

In short, when it comes to ethical advertising sex doesn’t sell.

I'd argue the same holds true with Just Stop Oil. If the goal was to drive impressions, it certainly worked. But, our goal in sustainability is to encourage people to join our cause...to convert. In that sense, these “shock and awe” tactics have been an absolute failure.

All over social media, people were rationally asking what any of this had to do with climate change. Others astutely pointed out the PR blunder doing nothing to galvanize support. I, too, have been asking myself these same questions for years.

What's your take? Do these protests actually lead to meaningful change, or are they better replaced by more pragmatic approaches?

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