ByJay Bigford
07/05/2019
6 min read

Branding a movement: Extinction Rebellion

More than 1,000 people have been arrested in Extinction Rebellion Climate protests in London in what has been described as the biggest, non-violent, civil disobedience event in recent British history. The Movement is well and truly underway and as admirers of what has been achieved we take a look at how the XR brand has been instrumental in this.

‘Extinction Rebellion is an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience to achieve radical change in order to minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.’

The world has seen many protests over the years but perhaps none quite as powerful as what Extinction Rebellion have achieved in the last year. It all started on 31st October 2018 when 1500 protestors assembled on Parliament Square in London to announce a Declaration of Rebellion against the UK Government. Over the next few weeks 6000 protestors descended on London to get themselves heard. On April 15th 2019 phase 2 of the protests got underway in London, occupying major junctions and demanding urgent action over the escalating ecological crisis. And it’s not just London: demonstrations have been happening in 80 cities across 33 countries.

Campaigners have issued three core demands to the government: to “tell the truth about climate change”; to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025; and to create a citizens’ assembly to oversee progress.

With such a clear and strongly communicated set of demands it is no surprise that XR’s other communications have also been equally well thought through. People were already activated but not organised and the XR movement has acted as a powerful force for bringing people together under a shared identity – something bigger than themselves that they can be part of.

The foundations

A quick reminder before we go too far, your logo and identity toolkit are not your brand. Your brand is the feeling people have when they think of you and the work your organisation does. XR’s brand is what people say it is, not what XR say it is.

You can influence these feelings by communicating in a manner that re-iterates your organisation’s values and qualities. The simpler these are, the easier they are to communicate.

Values, strategy and structure

XR do a fantastic job and clearly establishing the rules of engagement for their movement. This is vitally important when this is be be adopted by a wide, dispersed network, ‘chinese whispers’ and also smearing by negative press can be inevitable so to add strength to the movement and to minimise risk, keeping things simple helps. Their values are easy to understand, and the methods they recommend are communicated at every opportunity. The language they use is inviting, not dictating; open not closed. This is clearly an invitation to join.

In this film XR do a great job of sharing with great clarity how the movement is organised and how this is strategically put into action. Thanks to our friend Al Kennedy for the link:

Trust

A well-developed brand proposition can also engender feelings of affinity, belonging, and trust. This is important if you aspire for an existing network to evolve into a real movement. You are inviting people to activate and demand change whilst holding a banner with your logo on it. Do not underestimate the level of trust that is required for this to happen.

The brand toolkit

A huge amount of planning has gone into the Extinction Rebellion visual execution. They have an in-house art group, made up of graphic, fashion and stage designers and artists, who have created branded protest materials. Born from a strong visual foundation, they have expertly created a wider toolkit that is both recognisable yet adaptable.

The Extinction Rebellion logo was designed by a street artist who wishes to remain anonymous. The logo features a stylised sand-timer set inside a circle, representing the planet and is a clear symbol that time is running out. This references the warning from the United Nations that we have just 12 years to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or risk catastrophic changes to the planet’s climate.

This sand-timer logo combined with the language used throughout the campaign clearly highlights the scale and urgency of the climate crisis.

The simplicity of the logo has meant that it has been recreated on streets all over the globe in protest art and is instantly recognisable. It has been available for people to add to their facebook profile images, spreading the message further.

By contrasting the bold black logo and typeface with colourful graphics this works to give the movement an energetic and dynamic look and feel, emphasising the organisation’s passion and anger at the government’s in-action on climate change.

The background of posters and leaflets are made up of a illustrations of skeletons and skulls – a reminder of the threat of mass extinction of species, as well as more positive images of the natural world such as animals, insects and trees, all using their vibrant colour palette, giving a positive edge.

Speaking to Design Week, the campaign group’s graphic designer, Clive Russell explained,

One of the most important things was that this movement needed to feel really inclusive. A lot of eco movements feel a bit hippy and exclusive, and not particularly urban. It was important to have a consistent look, so we could be an umbrella movement that everyone could come underneath.

Clive Russell, Graphic Designer at Extinction Rebellion

Traction and growth

This has obviously worked for them. Protestors from every corner of society have rallied together – parents and their children joined scientists, teachers, long-term environmentalists and other protesters of all ages (some in their eighties). After all, it is an issue that affects every one of us.

Another great way of making the organisation inclusive and accessible has been the free availability of their protest graphics to download from their website, provided they are used strictly for non-corporate purposes. This open-sourcing of their graphics has allowed people to take a sense of ownership over the rebellion by making their own protest materials.

We’ve told people to use the three core elements of our graphics – the logo, font and colour palette. Between these, the aesthetic holds together.

Clive Russell, Graphic Designer at Extinction Rebellion

Maintaining a co-ordinated graphic identity in this way gives the movement a stronger visual identity.

Whilst the graphics have been designed in a way that promotes togetherness and unity, the name of the organisation was also carefully chosen to represent not just climate change but biodiversity loss and consumerism. Extinction sums it all up. In the words of Sir David Attenborough, ‘The scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies.”

The next chapter

As the London protest came to an end, the group said in a statement, “We will leave the physical locations but a space for truth-telling has been opened up in the world… We know we have disrupted your lives. We do not do this lightly. We only do this because this is an emergency.”

People are listening. Now it’s the government’s turn to take action.

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