Massive Chevron Ad Campaign Derailed, Media Slapstick Follows
News outlets, citizens duped by web of deceit – but whose?
A day-long comedy of errors began Monday morning when the Yes Men, supported by Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch, pre-empted Chevron’s enormous new “We Agree” ad campaign with a satirical version of their own. The activists’ version highlights Chevron’s environmental and social abuses – the same abuses they say Chevron is attempting to “greenwash.”
“Chevron’s super-expensive fake street art is a cynical attempt to gloss over the human rights abuses and environmental degradation that is the legacy of Chevron’s operations in Ecuador, Nigeria, Burma and throughout the world,” said Ginger Cassady, a campaigner at Rainforest Action Network. “They must think we’re stupid.”
“They say we’re ‘interrupting the dialogue,’” said Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men, referring to Chevron’s terse condemnation. “What dialogue? Chevron’s ad campaign is an insulting, confusing monologue – with many tens of millions of dollars behind it.”
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, complete with downloadable PDF files to be used in on-the-street postering.
Nine hours later, after issuing its own “We Agree” press release, the real Chevron decried the hoax in a predictably curt and humorless manner. Mere moments later, the counter-campaign issued a much better denial on Chevron’s behalf, laying out Chevron’s principal arguments in its Ecuador case. “We have binding agreements with the Ecuadorian Government exempting us from any liabilities whatsoever, granted in exchange for a $40 million cleanup of some wells by Texaco in the 1990s,” the spoof press release crowed, absurdly yet accurately.
Throughout the day, a sort of slow vaudeville unfolded on the web, as a number of press outlets, from industry mouthpieces to the AFP and even a watchdog group, produced accidental mash-ups of “real” and fake information.
First, Fast Company fell for the hoax (archived article here), then related their duping with humor. An outlet called “Environmental Leader,” quoted indiscriminately from both real and fake press releases, before quietly removing the fake parts a few hours later (original article archived here).
Shortly after that, Energy Digital, an online source providing “news and information for Energy Executives” (capitalization theirs), quoted extensively(archive here) from the fake release to describe Chevron’s campaign, then mentioned that the campaign had “already been spoofed.” They didn’t realize they’d just fallen for that very same spoof.
Even the AFP found itself duped (original article archived here). It described with glee the hoax “that appeared to have fooled some news outlets,” before going on to quote “the real firm” at length. (The “real firm” wasn’t.)
Nor were industry watchdog groups immune. “Oil Watchdog” dissected the hoax minutely and accurately, before citing Advertising Age as one of the outlets duped. That whole article, however, was a fake.
“If you really want to snooker the media, it’s pretty hard for them to resist,” said Mike Bonanno of the Yes Men. “We cobbled together some fake releases and websites with string and thumbtacks and chewing gum, and we fooled some of the most respectable press in the world.”
“Chevron is doing what we did, a million times over, with a ginormous budget – and it never reveals its subterfuge,” said Bichlbaum. “No wonder the media’s full of lies.”
“Yesterday’s spoof was a comedy of errors, but what’s happening in Ecuador is no joke,” said Mitch Anderson, a campaigner at Amazon Watch. “While Chevron spends tens of millions every year to greenwash their image and fool the media, Ecuadorians continue to die from their toxic legacy.”
Yesterday’s hoax is just the beginning for the activists. “Stay tuned,” said RAN’s Cassady. “There’s a lot more to come in the days ahead. We’re going to keep Chevron scrambling.”