Punking Politics As Usual


There's no doubt that Mad Men makes re-branding look sexy. Maybe it's the well-tailored suits, the soft lighting or the mid-century modern furniture accenting every account meeting. Either way, Mad Men's been instrumental in concealing the giant flashing neon sign that reads'we build our business by manipulating you!' Unfortunately, that sign was flashing bright when Chevron released their new "We Agree" ad campaign last week. The TV and print ads equate the concerns of 'real people' to those of the multinational oil corporation, illustrating their solidarity with costumers' interest in tackling large environmental degradation caused by the industry.

"We agree ... There is a lot of common ground on energy issues if we take the time to find it," said Rhonda Zygocki, vice president of Policy, Government and Public Affairs at Chevron.

Well, don't agree ... we're suspicious.

When one of the six "supermajor" oil companies in the world rolls out an ad campaign channeling the wheat-paste, street-artist look typically associated with low/no budget activist posters rarely found in glossy magazines and on network TV commercials, it's a sign. Something's up. An oil company appropriates the look of a social justice campaign for one reason and one reason only: greenwashing.

Just before Chevron's press releases appeared in journalist's inboxes last Monday morning, America's favorite political pranksters, The Yes Men, managed to derail the entire campaign by creating an alternative press release on Chevron's behalf. The spoof offered suggestions and solutions, sans greenwashing, that consumers might really agree with, using the headline “Radical Chevron Ad Campaign Highlights Victims." The actual Chevron press release read,“Chevron Launches New Global Advertising Campaign: ‘We Agree’.”

Visually, it is hard to tell the two campaigns part; the spoof came with a mock website and a fake press page just like Chevron's. But the lampoon addresses the environmental and social justice issues in which Chevron is embroiled, including a dispute in Ecuador over oil pollution in the Amazon Rainforest, among others; the real ads do not directly address these issues.

Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs suing Chevron, to the New York Times “the spoof is a direct consequence of Chevron’s trying to fool people into thinking it is environmentally conscious when the company is responsible for the extensive contamination found in Ecuador’s rain forest and in other places as well."

The Yes Men's campaign had the help and support of two environmental organizations, Amazon Watch and the Rainforest Action Network. Then Huffinton Post and Funny or Die got involved.

“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.

So what Ad Man pitched this concept so rife with turmoil? Who's idea was it to re-brand a corporation so central to bloody, global social justice violations by making it look and feel like grassroots activism?

McGarryBowen renowned in the business as the epitome of the courtly, old-school account [men]" created this campaign for Chevron. See, when you sell the one product that has been singled out as the most harmful to the environment and the future of the planet, there's a certain degree of marketing genius required to alter the feelings associated with the reality of the product. The company is known for "selling old-fashioned TV spots, print ads and client hand-holding. If you want guerrilla marketing or blog sponsorships, go somewhere else."

I couldn't help but think about our beloved Mad Men, the original Ad Men, and how well they've re-branded the very act of re-branding. They've successfully convinced me that they're not manipulators, they're just doing their job really well. After watching the series, thinking, "pffft, I could do that!", I had to take myself up on the challenge. Thankfully, The Yes Men made their punking materials available online for you to create your own remix/re-brand an honest Chevron campaign. It's actually a contest, but the real fun is in the re-branding. Here's mine and some of the best user-generated ads so far.

What do you think of the campaign? Post the links to your favorite remixed ads below and make sure you use the #WeAgree!



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