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Shell social media protests not exactly all they seem to be

Did an attempt by oil giant Shell to co-opt social media into creating a brand new advertising slogan for its arctic drilling efforts backfire spectacularly, prompting protestors to detourn the entire thing with suggested slogans like “At Least We Aren’t BP” and “Because You Can’t Afford to Visit Pristine Wilderness Anyway”? Not exactly… But the truth about the Arctic Ready Let’s Go Public! ad campaign might be even stranger than you first suspected, and point to the tricky nature of trying to co-opt social media nonetheless.

Chances are, if you’ve been on social media at all today, someone has pointed you to the Shell Arctic Ready site, which explains that “we want to take the Arctic Ready message offline, directly to the drivers who benefit from Shell’s performance fuels,” leading to the launch of a new campaign that would take customer-suggested ad slogans and turn them into images and posters to be printed and “posted in strategic locations worldwide.” “With your help,” the site continues, “we at Shell can tell the world how pumped we are about Arctic energy, and take the Arctic Ready message to Arctic-enthused drivers everywhere.”

The user-created slogans, however, weren’t exactly complimentary to Shell:

Links to the site have been flying around social networks all day, with comments along the lines of “I can’t believe Shell hasn’t taken these images down yet!” and “This is a great example of people taking on Shell on its own turf!” There’s only one problem with this story: It’s not actually real.

The Arctic Ready site and Let’s Go! Arctic are actually the product of a collaboration between Greenpeace and anti-corporate merry pranksters the Yes Men, mocked up to fool users into believing that Shell was accidentally hosting its own criticism. The project – which has also included a fake video of a corporate event gone wrong – comes about as the result of a court injunction that keeps Greenpeace more than a kilometer away from two drilling sites in the Arctic. Forced to change tactics, the organization has decided to take the battle online, as Greenpeace USA spokesman James Turner told the LA Times last month. “Certainly this injunction we are faced with demanded some new thinking, and I guess the tactics needed to counter an international oil campaign have to be creative,” Turner said. “Social media offers us the opportunity to use humor and inventiveness to reach people in a way that hopefully entertains and engages them, while making a serious point at the same time.”

Certainly, close reading of the Arctic Ready site would reveal that it’s not a real Shell site (Phrases about social media being “the fuel that lubricates the engines of internet communication” or the description of oil as “the dinosaurs’ parting gift to Man” should be giveaways). But while the idea of trying to engage social media on the subject is a good one, it remains to be seen whether or not those passing around the links believing they were genuine protests on Shell’s turf will be happy with being the ones pranked in the process…