Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Launch of Chevron's New PR Blitz Overshadowed by Hoax & Hijinks; Toxic Legacy in Ecuador Highlighted

Allow me to let the lead sentence in today's Associated Press article set the stage:

Activists seeking to condemn Chevron Corp.'s environmental record have turned to guerrilla-style tactics, grabbing attention with an online hoax that pre-empted a corporate advertising campaign.

Along with our allies at Rainforest Action Network, we worked with corporate crime-fighting pranksters The Yes Men to make sure that this week's launch of Chevron's new 'We Agree' ad campaign would NOT go unchallenged.

As The Yes Men explain in a press release that went out early Tuesday:

The activists' pre-emptive campaign began early Monday with a press release from a spoof Chevron domain, which launched the fake “We Agree” site hours before the real Chevron could launch its own, real campaign. The fake “We Agree” site featured four “improved” advertisements..."

The parody ads and ad copy on the site highlight Chevron's environmental and social abuses, and feature photos of Chevron's contamination in Ecuador, and victims who are part of the ongoing, valiant effort to hold Chevron accountable.

As Ecuadorian indigenous leader Emergildo Criollo said in response to Chevron's new ad blitz:

"Instead of spending millions of dollars on advertising to improve its image, Chevron should clean up the toxic waste pits that they abandoned, and pay to care for people with cancer that the contamination has caused."
We Agree.

And our hijinks around this "textbook example of greenwashing," as I told the AP, ARE turning the spotlight back to the very concerns that Chevron's deceptive advertising is designed to co-opt and conceal. Now you, dear reader, can help keep Chevron in the hot seat and it will only take a few seconds...

After reporting on our efforts, The Washington Post is conducting a poll, asking: What do you think of Chevron's new 'We Agree' ad campaign?

VOTE NOW!

Did you vote?

Promise?

Okay, then enjoy reading more on this latest effort to use just the right amount of subterfuge to help Chevron with a little much-needed "truth in advertising."

Fast Company was the first media outlet to fall (hook line, and sinker) for the hoax– here's an excerpt from the updated version of its article:

Yes Men's version involved an ad with a smiling elderly indigenous man wearing a bandana, with the words "OIL COMPANIES SHOULD CLEAN UP THEIR MESSES," along with a red stamp that reads "We Agree"--followed by the signatures of Chevron higher-ups. The ad was supposed to be a reference to a years-long lawsuit in Ecuador, where Chevron is accused of being responsible for $27 billion of oil pollution clean-up costs. Chevron.com refers to the Ecuadorian lawsuit as "a meritless case"; according to the Christian Science Monitor, Chevron has taken out quarter-page newspaper ads with defensive headlines like "the fraud of the century." Nevertheless, Ecuadorians appeared to be the heroes of Chevron's new ad campaign. It was fake, we now know.
And here are links to a bunch of the coverage so far – from mainstream media and wire stories to ad industry and energy outlets to political blogs. I'll highlight a few of my favorite headlines...

The New York Times
The Washington Post
Associated Press: 'Activists parody Chevron ad campaign in hoax, seeking to spotlight concerns'
Reuters
Agence France Press [updated version, after hoax was revealed]
Agence France Presse [original, 'archived' version]
Yahoo! News' The Upshot: 'New Chevron ‘We Agree’ ad campaign hijacked by anti-corporate tricksters'
KGO-TV Channel 7, ABC News in the Bay Area
BNET - CBS Interactive Business Network: 'Chevron Punk’d! How the Big Oil Company Lost Control of Its Message '
San Francisco Business Times
O'Dwyer's (Public Relations blog): 'Chevron Should Adopt Goals of Spoof PR Push'

As many outlets above reported, Chevron spends nearly $100 million a year in advertising (and I don't think that counts their army of highly-paid PR spinmasters) so it's very unlikely they're going to turn back from the investment the company's already made in their 'We Agree' campaign. But this was merely the quick-n-dirty opening salvo from a handful of people who are sick of Chevron treating them like idiots.

And as more and more people see their ads, I think we'll be joined by a whole lot of people that feel the same way. Creative, funny, intelligent, forward-looking people who I suspect are going to make this first little hoax seem like an amateurish warm-up.

– Han

Han Shan is the Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

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