Mobilising millions

Why the United Nations needed a movement to tackle climate change

The United Nations is a powerful agent of change, particularly during times of political uncertainty. No other organisation has the global convening power of the UN, but with growing grassroots activism, many people feel distant and disconnected from the body set up to be the collective voice of the people. 

Building a movement with people at its heart

The UN called on WPP to help reconnect the organisation with societies across the world on the most urgent issue of our time – climate change. The team, led by Grey London, leveraged the network’s creative talent to create meaningful impact and bring the opening words of the founding United Nations Charter, “We the Peoples of the United Nations”, to life. It is a charter that puts people at its centre, and the UN needed a 21st century manifestation that gave people a place at the heart of change, starting at COP24, the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland, where world leaders would meet to negotiate the rulebook to put the Paris Agreement into action.

The People’s Seat

Together, the UN and WPP introduced a new, physical seat in the plenary at COP24; the first seat in UN history representing the world’s people, rather than a nation or specific interest.

The People’s Seat allows people’s voices to be heard directly by world leaders through their collective thoughts and opinions gathered across social media.

By bringing the tools, technology and techniques of modern marketing to the UN, WPP helped re-invent how the UN engages with citizens around the world.

A global network of influencers and activists was recruited to invite their followers to #TakeYourSeat by answering social polls, creating video testimonials and voicing their opinions on what climate actions they wanted world leaders to take. This user-generated content was crafted into the first People’s Seat Address, delivered at COP24 by Sir David Attenborough, and streamed live to the world via Facebook. 


Starting a movement that mobilised millions

The People’s Seat reached 1.3 billion people and put COP24 at the top of the global news agenda. Globally, over 1,600 articles and 500 pieces of broadcast news covered The People’s Seat, including China’s CCTV, the BBC, CNN, Sky News, Reuters and Fox News.

Engagement numbers were reported daily to delegates and negotiators at COP24. At the start of negotiation sessions, comments from #TakeYourSeat were read aloud to ensure that people’s voices were heard, reminding delegates that the world’s people were watching.

By putting people back at the centre, WPP helped the UN achieve real legislative impact. Against all the odds, by the end of COP24, nearly 200 countries signed the rulebook putting the Paris Agreement promises into action.

The People’s Seat and #JoinTheHerd have taught us a lot about how to successfully build mass movements.

Five essential rules to mobilising millions:

  1. Start with a shared agenda. To unite disparate organisations and stakeholders around your cause, create a shared agenda. Get them to agree on one thing and use this to build a unified movement.
  2. Lead with a brave and disruptive idea. In a 24/7 world, creativity is essential to capture hearts and minds. Be brave and disruptive, or you won’t get cut-through.
  3. Put citizens at the centre. Invite people to participate. Let them speak for themselves. Help them to influence decision makers.
  4. Harness technology. Leverage technology to build a platform where people can participate and equip people with the tools they need to create change. This will help build scale and have greater impact.
  5. Encourage open access. Make it easy to join. Let partners and even competitors in to accelerate impact.

We’re at a pivotal point in the fight to tackle climate change. Climate activism is now mainstream, yet real change requires legislative change. Helping to harness momentum and rally audiences around a global sustainability agenda for clients such as the UN is an important way in which we can play our part.

Read more on The People's Seat

Aisling Ryan

The Corporate Practice, Ogilvy Consulting

published on

26 November 2019



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