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Slicker than oil

Greenpeace’s online assault on Shell proves that activists are far better than corporates at using online and social media content to make a point

There’s culture jamming, and then there’s Culture Jamming.  In recent years, most of the examples of the concept that spring to mind are little more than manufactured guerrilla marketing stunts that undermine the original purpose of culture jamming.

Therefore, when an exquisite example of authentic culture jamming comes along – one with a strong message and a global reach – well, we just have to talk about it…

The stunt in question is the result of a collaboration between Greenpeace and The Yes Men as part of Greenpeace’s Save The Arctic campaign.

Shell’s official website includes an educational section about its drilling in the Arctic, and looks like this:



But a few months ago, another website – one almost identical in design – appeared, with the URL www.arcticready.com. The content, however, was very different…



The website is filled with the kind of euphemistic ‘look on the bright side’ rhetoric that many major energy companies spurt to the public. Which is exactly how it was supposed to look.

Part of the site was a spoof ‘Caption This’-style campaign. It invited users to insert their own ad slogans for Shell over images of Arctic wildlife. Here are a few pearlers…

The next step in this incredibly well-executed content culture jamming campaign was the video component. In early June, this video appeared on YouTube, purporting to be real footage from a Shell PR event.

This kind of malfunction in any major company’s press conference would attract a good deal of online interest and sharing, but a major oil company suffering an embarrassment provides a particularly delicious flavour of schadenfruede. Pretty soon, Twitter was on fire and the hashtag #arcticready was in high rotation.

Throwing fuel on the fire (pun shamelessly intended) was the spoof @shellsprepared Twitter account, tirelessly responding to tweets with carefully crafted ineptitude – and in such a convincing manner that many people believed it to be a real Shell account.

Shell itself is issuing no comment, which in itself demonstrates how much companies need to learn about using social media and online content. By remaining steadfastly tight-lipped, they have completely lost control of the conversation.

And for Greenpeace, subversive, clever online content like this is a far more effective, less dangerous way of raising awareness than, say, living in a tree for eight months or tying yourself to a tractor. While it may not stop people re-fuelling their cars at Shell petrol stations right away, it shows an understanding of what it takes to get people talking, and re-enforces what The Message has long been saying about the creation of online content: entertain them, and they’ll keep coming back…


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