How the public destroyed Shell's 2012 ad campaign

A fake P.R. effort shocks even its own creators—twice! And then, less jubilantly, a third time....

In 2012, as part of helping Shell to (mis)launch their Arctic drill rig, we decided to "help" Shell with their "Let's Go" ad campaign too. 

First, we created a website,, whose main feature was a "Shell" tool to generate memes in support for Arctic drilling.

In a fake Shell press release, "Shell" attacked us by noting that we'd very horribly created a fake website,

Delighted readers visited and, on their own initiative, tweeted it out as real. Thousands more users—thrilled to see Shell committing such an obvious gaffe—flooded the site, and Twitter, with generated "Let's Go" memes. To build the "gotcha" effect even further, a very angry and incompetent "Shell intern" (inspired by one angry PR head we'd met) threatened many of the ad submitters with legal action, ensuring yet more tweets and ads. (The "intern" was eventually automated into a twitterbot, back when you could do that sort of thing.)

Most users got the joke at some point—and then flooded the site with yet more ads! Users also voted on their favorite ads, and the winner—"You can't run your SUV on 'cute'"—was put up on a billboard in Houston right near Shell's US headquarters.

The wave of media stories about the whole nonsense helped publicize the (ultimately successful) campaign to stop Shell's arctic drilling.

The end? No! Several weeks later—long after many articles had been written about the site— sprang back to life, with an even bigger new wave of submissions, bringing a whole new reveal and a whole new wave of publicity. We still have no idea how this happened!

Finally, a few months later, Shell's real-life Arctic drilling ground to a halt due partly to greedy incompetence and partly to public outrage (aka "an unpredictable federal regulatory environment"). And though the media had fully exposed our campaign—twice!—the fake ads were up to stay... so that even today an image search on "Shell Let's Go" or even just "Shell ad campaign" is dominated by the hilarious creations of people fed up and disgusted with Shell's definition of business as usual.

2020 postscript: The story of how we tried to replicate this effect in 2020 may show the terrifying difference between before-Trump and after-Trump times. Yet another reason that when fascism threatens, it's time to get serious.