Talk about truth in advertising.
A day-long comedy of errors, and Chevron's waking nightmare, began when Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch, together with the Yes Lab, pre-empted Chevron's multi-million dollar “We Agree” ad campaign with a satirical version of their own. The activists' version highlights Chevron's environmental and social abuses—especially the toxic mess the oil giant has left in Ecuador, which Chevron has been attempting to “greenwash” for years.
The activists' pre-emptive campaign began 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. (There are now hundreds of such printable advertisements, as well as a whole associated wheatpasting contest.)
Nine hours later, after issuing its own “We Agree” press release, the real Chevron decried the hoax in a predictably curt and humorless manner. Shortly thereafter the counter-campaign issued a much better denial on Chevron's behalf, laying out Chevron's principal arguments in its Ecuador case. Throughout the course of the day a 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.
On the heels of this PR smackdown, the groups announced an online contest for submissions of print, web, and even tv ads further satirizing Chevron's blatent greenwashing. Hundreds of submissions poured in and were posted in online, and were wheat pasted in cities nationwide, effectively derailing the shiny new $50 million campaign. (One video, submitted by the comedy troupe Funny or Die, cracked up online legions, as did a large number of print submissions.)
Chevron's plan for the “We Agree” offensive was first leaked to Amazon Watch, when ecologist blogger Lauren Selman received a casting call to appear in one of Chevron's new split-screen television ads. Selman used the information she gathered to help Amazon Watch, the Rainforest Action Network, and the Yes Men pre-empt Chevron's insulting PR campaign. (Read Selman's blog post here.)
Another leak came shortly after, when Chevron's ad agency, McGarryBowen, asked DC street artist César Maxit if he could help wheat-paste the new Chevron posters. Instead, Maxit sent the Chevron files to the Rainforest Action Network and helped build their campaign. (See video here.)
The activists' continuing efforts ensured that Chevron's PR strategy backfired severely, as media about the action highlighted Chevron's embarrasing and atrocious environmental and human rights record. That was exactly the point, said the activists: to raise public awareness around Chevron's abuses in Ecuador and elsewhere, and ultimately force Chevron to do something about them.
See ChevronThinksWereStupid.org for an archive of amazing posters submitted by users in response to our contest call. Below are three of the original ones.
- Fast Company: Hoaxes and the Chevron Debacle
- The Atlantic: The Failure of Chevron's New 'We Agree' Ad Campaign