Greenpeace doesn’t run on cute either

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The Internet has changed the meaning of advertising and branding. Now, the main goal for both organisations and individuals is to outdo each other in garnering publicity – whether good or bad. And you know what the great thing is? Every person and company is free game. Whilst it has opened up a whole range of avenues for marketers to develop new branding ideas and encourages innovative thinking, it’s also given us greater opportunities to bully and discredit anyone with the blanket defence of a human being’s right to freedom of speech.

When individuals are constantly bombarded with huge amounts of data and content, there is a need to engage with audiences in creative and unorthodox ways so that their product and branding is memorable. With the reach of the Internet being so extensive, it is a strikingly effective and powerful instrument when executed deftly.

But for those of you who remember the Qantas Luxury Twitter campaign or the Kony 2012 video, you will know that it is often a double-edged sword that must be wielded with care and responsibility. In July, Greenpeace, masquerading as Shell, released a series of advertisements that imitated Shell’s own advertising campaign, “Let’s Go.” However, while Shell’s ads had phrases such as “Let’s keep delivering heat to our cities. Let’s Go,” and “Let’s help to keep the Skies Blue. Let’s Go,” the hoax ads contained phrases oozing with sarcasm; “Birds are like sponges… For oil! Let’s Go,” “Turn the power on. It’s time to melt some ice! Let’s Go.” From the font, to the layout, down to the obligatory Shell logo, the similarities are uncanny, and for any unsuspecting audience these ads were easily interchangeable.

This hoax is possibly one of the most well thought-out and elaborate projects of the Digital Age. A mock Shell website, ‘Arctic Ready’ was created, and so was a fake Twitter account with the name ‘Shellisready,’ disguised as the oil company’s media department trying desperately to counter the negative social media feedback, effectively completing the ruse.

Was the hoax brilliant? Without a doubt. But was it an ethical, honest, and good depiction of how a non-government organisation should behave? No. Those who mistook the advertisements for the real deal felt that they had been played the fool, and were not impressed with its “juvenile” tactics. Whilst I applaud Greenpeace’s success in engaging an audience with a forever-diminishing attention span, it’s also easy to see why many don’t see eye-to-eye with its guerrilla campaigning. As a well-established, pro-environmental organisation championing a very worthwhile cause, they are compromising the trust previously invested in them by the public.

How do you feel about being lied to and being duped?…. There’s a credible conversation and they’re not part of it, it undermines their own credibility

In response to a Unalaska radio station, Shell spokesperson, Curtis Smith turns the tables and asks the reporter; “… How do you feel about being lied to and being duped?”

And this is the crux of the matter. As mentioned before, I don’t want to dismiss the ingeniousness of what Greenpeace has done, but I’d like to highlight the means they’ve used to attain their goals. Satire is certainly an excellent way to connect with people – especially Generation Y, so often depicted as politically detached, and uninterested in helping the world. But Greenpeace’s success is based on theft; what they have successfully managed to do is steal another corporation’s identity and lie about their own. In the same interview, Smith said: “There’s a credible conversation and they’re not part of it, it undermines their own credibility for the long term.”

There is legislation in place concerning individuals who pose as others, and identity theft is a punishable crime by law. If the dangers of an individual partaking in identity theft can be recognised, then surely when an NGO engages in similarly dishonest practice, it’s easy to acknowledge that the potential impact, or damage, is increased substantially.

I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t have made the ads in the first place, but what Greenpeace should’ve done is make clear from the very beginning that they were the ones behind the campaign; that would’ve been ethical practice.  The public would’ve appreciated the humour; the lines were good, really good. You can only milk the “I’m saving the world” justification so far as you’re honest in your own practices and campaigning. Ironically, in an interview with Forbes, Travis Nichols, from Greenpeace’s media team, defends the organisation’s actions.

“It’s identity correction. It’s important that you don’t lie. You take the facts and put them out without Shell’s spin.”

Greenpeace says Shell hasn’t been honest, but the hypocrisy is apparent. If these oil companies are seen as essentially evil and capitalising on the downfall of earth – then what is Greenpeace doing? Capitalising on the downfall of humanity, the gullibility of those who they very much want to convince to take up an environmental cause? People don’t like to know they’ve fallen for a childish prank, nor do they enjoy the feeling of being lied to. There’s a certain responsibility that comes with being a respected independent body, as well as certain ethical standards that must be upheld to maintain that position.

Photos: Arctic Ready


5 responses to “Greenpeace doesn’t run on cute either

  1. Hmm it sounds to me as if the ads green peace posted as shell were pretty obviously not shell. It wasn’t like greenpeace was lying just because people didnt question the ads enough to see that something was up. Honestly I agree with you on the genius of this idea. What an awesome nonviolent way of protest!

  2. Frankly I don’t see the hypocrisy. I’ve read one article similar to this one and was equally perplexed. Shell and other corporations crowd the public space with their advertising – which is almost universally
    based on deception. The ruse that the engagement was actually shell was brief, it lasted only a very sort time. After the reveal, the ads were crowd-sourced via the website – there was a competition to come up with the best spoof. A public one. It was fun, I participated, and I appreciated that funnier people than me won. If people feel they have been fooled, then they should be humble and good-humoured enough to accept it. People who feel like they have been ‘taken for a fool’ (which is not the same as just being fooled) might want to think about whether that is a problem of their own ego. They also might want to think about how often they are taken for fools by the companies that advertise to them and whose products they consume on a daily basis They should learn a lesson from the experience, which is not to accept advertising at face-value. Part of the beauty of this campaign is that it attempted to claim back some of the public space that Shell and others like shell dominate by no virtue of deservedness other than their ability to pay. Greenpeace occupied it through their cleverness, their undoubted experience and team-work (for it must have taken meticulous planning and a lot of heads), and their determination to stop a company from engaging in indefensible acts. I think they are excused. I look forward to the next time I am so wittily duped for a good cause.



  3. Hmm I don’t agree. Advertising and marketing by companies is continually spinning the truth for their customers. Greenwashing by corporates and downplaying the impact of their operations is a much bigger concern. How often do companies like Shell have “sustainable” programs they promote when their main operations are incredibly destructive. No need to spend time attacking the groups who are trying to protect the planet we all depend on – focus on the coroporates intent on putting their profits first.

  4. Great article. And Greenpeace did their advertising in a fantastic manner. More action needs to be taken with environmental disasters like the oil spill

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