Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chevron Throws Out The “Communities They’re A Part Of” At Shareholders’ Meeting

The Real Ad

This past May, Chevron threw out of its shareholders’ meeting in Houston 20 people who had traveled from Nigeria, Burma, the Philippines, Angola and Ecuador — all places where Chevron has explored for oil and where, according to its new ad campaign, the oil giant should “support the communities they’re a part of.”

Allowing 20 foreigners with legitimate proxies into the shareholder meeting apparently was not the kind of “support” Chevron means in its new $90 million ad campaign that purports to highlight its commitment to the environment and good corporate citizenry but has been met with damning ridicule from dozens of environmental groups and bloggers pointing out the hypocrisy behind the advertisements.

The Fake Ad

Paul Tullis, an environmental writer, posted a blog on that included this comment: “You may remember Chevron's "People Do" ad campaign from awhile back, in which the oil giant tried to convince us that environmental concerns were at the top of its agenda—even as it polluted the air, soil and water. Well, it looks like they're up to their old tricks.”

And, if the criticism from the environmental community wasn’t bad enough, the Yes Men prank with its fake press releases surely made Chevron wonder if its $90 million could have been put “To Good Use” elsewhere. See this New York Times article about the prank.

October 18, 2010, 3:38 PM
Pranksters Lampoon Chevron Ad Campaign
NY Times
Updated at 3:50 p.m.

Chevron is scrambling to deal with an elaborate lampoon of a major advertising campaign that the company introduced on Monday.

An environmental organization, the Rainforest Action Network, sent an e-mail on Monday afternoon claiming credit for the spoof, along with Amazon Watch and the Yes Men.

Chevron announced the campaign to reporters on Monday morning in e-mails, which were sent after the publication of an article about the ads in the Monday editions of The Wall Street Journal. There was also a news release about the campaign posted to a section of the Chevron Web site.

The campaign, by McGarryBowen in New York, carries the theme “We agree.” The ads seek to address critics of energy companies by affirming statements like “Oil companies should support the communities they’re part of” and “Oil companies should put their profits to good use.” A section of the Chevron Web site is also devoted to the campaign.

However, hours before the e-mails were sent, e-mails designed to resemble Chevron corporate missives also went out. They cited a different Web address, , and included a link to what seemed to be an authentic news release on the official Chevron site.

The spoof news release carries the headline “Radical Chevron Ad Campaign Highlights Victims,” compared with the actual Chevron news release headline, “Chevron Launches New Global Advertising Campaign: ‘We Agree.’”

The spoof news release echoed language from the actual news release and included concocted quotations from actual Chevron executives. The main difference between the lampoon and the real was that the fake release described the ads as addressing environmental issues in which Chevron is embroiled, including a dispute in Ecuador over oil pollution; the real ads do not directly address those matters.

At least one news outlet, the Web site of Fast Company magazine, was fooled by the prank.

The fake e-mail was followed by another, purporting to reproduce a news release that Chevron supposedly posted on the Business Wire service. It described how “a group of environmentalists cyber-posing as Chevron officials illegally spoofed Chevron’s just-launched ‘We Agree’ advertising campaign, confusing reporters.”

The second fake release, like the first, also attributed made-up quotes to real Chevron executives.

Morgan Crinklaw, a spokesman for Chevron in San Ramon, Calif., said the company was “taking down the Web sites that purport to be Chevron’s.”

“We expected something like this would be done,” he said in a phone interview on Monday afternoon, because “there are activist groups whose sole focus is attacking Chevron and not engaging in rational conversations on energy issues.”

Mr. Crinklaw also forwarded by e-mail a statement from Chevron that called the lampoon “rhetoric and stunts” and condemned the “fake press release” and “counterfeit Web site, which are not affiliated with Chevron.”

The e-mail asked reporters to contact the company “to ensure the accuracy of the information they have received” about the campaign.

Asked who might have been behind the spoof, Mr. Crinklaw replied: “I don’t want to speculate. I don’t know the answer.”

The e-mail from the Rainforest Action Network described the hoax as a “satirical counter-campaign.”

“When it comes to oil spills, climate change and human rights abuses, we need real action from Chevron,” said the e-mail. “Instead, the oil giant has prioritized a high-priced glossy advertising campaign that attempts to trick the American people into believing it is different than BP.”

Fast Company, in updating the article on its Web site, said that the pranksters known as the Yes Men were behind the hoax. The Yes Men are known for mocking big business and what they perceive to be corporate misdeeds.

Some environmental organizations welcomed the lampoon, whatever its provenance.

“The spoof is a direct consequence of Chevron’s trying to fool people into thinking it is an environmentally conscious when the company is responsible for the extensive contamination found in Ecuador’s rain forest and in other places as well,” Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs suing Chevron, said in an e-mail on Monday afternoon.

Earlier, before the spoof became widely known, Ms. Hinton sent an e-mail in which the plaintiffs criticized the actual Chevron campaign as “greenwashing.”