Before the world woke up to the endemic global issue of plastics pollution in our oceans, Greenpeace reached out to London design agency Lovers to help put the problem on the front pages. With the End Ocean Plastics campaign planned, Lovers was enlisted to design a toolkit including a typeface, imagery, textures and colour scheme for Greenpeace’s in-house design team to employ across all sorts of media, when the time was right. “The idea was to create a campaign to make people see that it’s grim,” Lovers’ founder Alex Ostrowski explains to It’s Nice That. “To make them think ‘I’m so viscerally disgusted by this that I need to take action.”
By way of initial, firsthand research, designer on the project Paul Kelly went down to the Thames Estuary where he had the glamorous task of sifting through rubbish found on its banks, gathering a bag of visual inspiration. Sending Paul on his trash picking mission was intended to “bring the gift of the subject matter” into the work, inspired by a comment Greenpeace had made in their brief to Alex. “They called the oceans a ‘brand soup’, describing the lumps of brands that are floating around in there, so we thought we’d fish out what was in that grotesque soup, and use its deformed, yet weirdly transfixing aesthetic for the work."
The branding therefore aims to reflect what brands look like “when you hoik them out of the sea, all salty and knackered,” Alex continues. He describes how they took a clean typeface and distressed it to look like it would on a partially eroded and crumpled plastic bottle dumped in the sea. To add authenticity, the resulting typeface features three versions of each letter. “It uses this tech called ‘contextual alternates,’” Alex says. “Imagine seeing the word ‘banana’ with all the letters eroded – they wouldn’t all be eroded in the same way, so if our typeface did, you wouldn’t believe it. So when you type, each ‘a’ would be different, it knows not to show adjacent duplicates.”
Lovers also mocked up how Greenpeace might deploy the toolkit in a series of campaign images. For example, the kit uses scanned images of disposable cotton buds – a major feature in the oceans’ plastic pollution – to depict numbers as tallies, like scratches on a prison cell wall. Other items Paul found on his mission include a plastic skull, which is used in an image with the type stating “What Dies Beneath”. The toolkit has since been used for multiple campaigns to raise awareness of the plastic problem.
Since then, Greenpeace has returned to Lovers for another two campaigns. The first, a so-called “brand jam” on Coca-Cola, which saw Lovers using Coke’s well-known design tropes against them. Using parody to get around delicate IP laws, the images use the iconic Coca-Cola wave graphic, but instead populated with plastic bottles and a whale’s tail, with birds flying above. In Paul Kelly’s initial Greenpeace research he’d found Coke labels, so Lovers applied the textures and crumpled aesthetics from these labels on to the work. The tagline “Don’t let Coke choke our oceans” alludes to the fact that 90% of sea birds are now estimated to have ingested plastic, and Coke – as a massive plastic bottles producer – is a major culprit in this issue. The campaign was a huge success, the memorable tagline becoming so prevalent that even Michael Gove (the UK’s secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs) was quoted talking about the “choking of our oceans”, and Coca-Cola changing its policies around plastic bottle deposit return schemes.
Most recently, Lovers has also worked with Greenpeace on a separate, ongoing campaign, Protect the Antarctic. Ahead of October 2018’s summit of global powers on whether to make the Antarctic the world’s largest protected area on Earth, the campaign group is firing on all cylinders trying to inform and inspire people around the world about the catastrophic impact of overfishing. For the creative, Lovers sought to stand out from the visual stereotypes of the Antarctic Ocean, namely the predictable white and blue colour scheme.
“The Antarctic is actually all different colours, because of the way light is refracted there,” says Alex. “I heard a glaciologist describe it as walking into a shop full of gems.” Also referencing heat maps of the Antarctic, which show a gradient of multicoloured pastel shades, the imagery features a spectrum created in airbrush, again by designer Paul Kelly. A typeface was also developed, based on the typography found on the sides of industrial shipping boats. “It’s strong and sea-faring, which is a nice contrast with the pastel palette.” At the core of the imagery are depictions of penguins and dolphins – just some of the creatures affected by humans’ dangerous interference.