Monday 23 March 2020 10:15 am

By trademarking her brand, Greta Thunberg has turned identity marketing on its head

Petronella Panérus is Sweden country manager for The North Alliance.

Greta Thunberg’s recent announcement that she had trademarked her name and the phrase that carried her global movement may have seemed an odd choice for a young activist so opposed to the status quo of capitalism. But this is in fact a savvy and necessary move  to protect her message.

The phrase is “skolstrejk for klimatet” — or “school strike for climate”. Thunberg made this decision to prevent other parties from capitalising on her very marketable image, in the same way that a member of the Kardashian dynasty would protect their brand in order to build commercial partnerships on their own terms.

Read more: Greta Thunberg crowned Time Person of the Year 2019

In Thunberg’s case, the commercial aspect is clearly secondary. Nonetheless, it is extremely telling of the times we live in that both the celebrity reality star and the activist use the same legal pathway, for very different means.

As an individual with interests beyond self-promotion, Thunberg’s newfound fame is very much a byproduct of the power of her campaigning. This act of copyrighting is to make sure her message does not become tarnished by the interests of big corporates.

At the same time, she hopes it can help her remain accessible to the swathes of like-minded young people across the world who have found her leadership on the climate crisis so inspiring.

When it comes to the critics who suggest this is a case of the Swedish teenager “cashing in”, it seems Thunberg does not care much for their jibes. Her self-effacing Twitter bios such as “a teenager working on her anger management problem” surely attest to someone far too secure to be affected by this.

Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg speaks during a  "Youth Strike 4 Climate" protest march in Brussels
Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg speaks during a “Youth Strike 4 Climate” protest march in Brussels. (Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

She has inverted the trend of identity marketing, and has succeeded in turning a contempt for branding into her very own personal brand.

We are unlikely to see phrases such as “our house is on fire”, an epithet repeated during a number of speeches, and her famous “how dare you” delivery to the UN, on future clothing ranges anytime soon. In fact, her decision is clearly about limiting the extent to which companies can do this without her consent.  

This is far from leveraging media-friendly catchphrases for monetary gain. Instead, we can assume that Thunberg is making a move to strengthen the legal power of her core values, and the things that make her so unique: her “Swedishness”, and the humble schoolyard origins of this now-global movement.

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Whether she has done it intentionally or not, the young climate activist has spawned Sweden’s biggest global brand phenomenon since Ikea. Her star power has grown so much over the last few years that it is now unavoidable.

The decision to trademark this is about retaining this image as a sustainable vision going forward. It is apt for a young mind spreading a message of sustainability to millions.

Petronella Panerus is chief executive of Akestam Holst and country manager in Sweden for The North Alliance.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.