1 – The Website
Around May 2012, a website appeared, called Arctic Ready – http://arcticready.com/ This appeared to be an educational campaign as part of Shell’s real website. http://www.shell.com/home/content/future_energy/meeting_demand/arctic/shell_in_the_arctic/
2 – User Generated / Shareable Content
The website offers several games to readers, including the ability to add tag lines to images of the arctic, in order to create fake Shell ads. These ads could then be shared using social media. Here are some of the best ones.
3 – The Viral Video
A mobile phone video appeared on You Tube showing Shell’s private arctic launch party. A mini oil rig, that is supposed to pour drinks, malfunctions and sprays all over the guest of honour, an 85 year old lady. A Shell staff member demands that the recording be stopped. The video is tagged #shellfail and includes a link to the fake website.
4 – Failed Attempt to Silence Criticism
Any journalist who covered the story received a threatening email from Shell asking them to stop reporting and claiming that the video is a hoax. The email said. “lawyers operating on behalf of Royal Dutch Shell plc (Shell) are considering formal action… Shell is monitoring the spread of potentially defamatory material on the internet and reporters are advised to avoid publishing such material”.
5 – Social Media Communication
The Shell social media team @ShellsPrepared starts tweeting, asking people to stop sharing the fake Shell ads online, and threatening legal action. They screw up, hilariously.
6 – Another Viral Video
Another video is posted on youtube. This one shows Shell’s plan to use fingers and a mop to cap and clean up an oil spill.
7 – More User Generated / Shareable Content
The arctic ready website launched a ‘Mercy Poll”. This allows readers to vote for one of the arctic animals. Whichever animal first reaches 10,000 votes will receive ‘less harassment’ from Shell than the other animals. All the responses are tweeted.
A Coordinated Attack
Here is the best part. Every single one of these items was fake – all of them. The campaign was run by Greenpeace and Yes Men to draw public attention to Shell’s arctic drilling campaign. Much of the campaign’s success stems from the layers – each new activity claimed to be genuine while announcing that the previous activity was a hoax. The campaign was shared extensively on social media by a public (and even journalists) who believed that much of it was a huge PR/social media fail by Shell.
As successful (and fun) as this was, it raises some ethical questions. Greenpeace committed and encouraged others to commit trademark violations by creating the fake website and ads. They also impersonated Shell staff to mislead the public and the press – is this really the best way to build trust in a non-profit activist organisation?
Shell is stuck in an awkward position. If they pursue legal action against Greenpeace, even more attention will be drawn to the campaign. But keeping quiet isn’t really working either…