A still from a TV spot in Chevron’s new ‘Human Energy’ ad campaign.
New Campaign Aims
To Portray Oil Major
As Part of the Solution
By GUY CHAZAN
October 18, 2007; Page B7
Chevron is spending millions of dollars trying to reshape its image as an energy company that cares about climate change just as much as ordinary folk do.
“Imagine that — an oil company as part of the solution,” intones a TV spot in a new global advertising campaign, the biggest Chevron has ever run.
But some think it may take more than that to burnish Chevron’s image. Big Oil has been taking a battering in the court of public opinion in the past couple of years, blamed for everything from global warming to high energy prices and human-rights abuses in oil-producing countries. Most recently, Chevron has come under fire for its investments in Myanmar, after the country’s military regime brutally suppressed pro-democracy protests in Yangon last month.
Chevron, based in San Ramon, Calif., isn’t the only energy-market participant pouring money into public relations. Last year, the American Petroleum Institute, a Washington-based trade group, hired global PR agency Edelman and polling experts at Harris Interactive Inc. to try to overturn what it saw as popular misconceptions about the way the energy industry works. BP PLC rebranded itself in 2000 with a green-and-yellow starburst logo and the slogan “Beyond Petroleum,” to position itself at the cutting edge of alternative energy. Those credentials took a knock with a fatal explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery in 2005 and last year’s Alaskan oil spill. Since then, the company’s top management has tended to play down BP’s commitment to renewables.
The germ of Chevron’s new campaign originated this year when the company asked focus groups in the U.S. about energy issues and was shocked at how ill-informed people were, says Helen Clark, the company’s manager of corporate brand and reputation.
“They were saying things like ‘We need to drill for more ethanol,’” says Ms. Clark. “I was amazed at the lack of information.”
To fill the void, Chevron commissioned mcgarrybowen, an independent ad agency in New York, to develop four television spots to run world-wide. Mcgarrybowen, which has run campaigns for J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Reebok International Ltd., recently produced commercials for Walt Disney Co. featuring singer Beyoncé Knowles as Alice in Wonderland and actress Scarlett Johansson as Cinderella.
“Human Energy” kicked off late last month with a lavish, 2½-minute spot directed and shot by Lance Acord, the cinematographer for “Lost in Translation” and “Being John Malkovich,” and narrated by actor Campbell Scott. Shot in 22 locations in 13 countries, it shows faces from around the world, many of them Chevron employees — “not corporate titans,” the voiceover says, “but men and women with vision.”
Alongside images of an amputee athlete, mountaineers and a child taking his first steps, Chevron lauds the virtues of human energy and promises to provide oil “more intelligently, more efficiently, more respectfully” and to “never stop looking for alternatives.”
“It’s a rallying cry,” says Gordon Bowen, mcgarrybowen’s creative director, of the Chevron ads. “We don’t sugarcoat the problem” of a world running out of energy. “We hit it head on. But we say it’s a problem that’s going to be solved by human beings pulling together.”
The TV ads come two years after the launch of Will You Join Us, a multimedia campaign that hit on similar themes and was centered around a Web site that encouraged people to discuss energy issues. The site now features Energyville, an online game Chevron devised with the Economist magazine, in which players have to power a city of 3.9 million people while minimizing the environmental and economic impact of their decisions.
New print ads have also been created by WPP Group’s Young & Rubicam to accompany the TV spots, and Chevron has revamped its corporate Web site, which now features “interactive stories” showcasing “human energy.” Chevron declined to give an overall figure for spending on the new campaign, but a person familiar with the company said it ran to “tens of millions of dollars.”
The ads don’t seem to be selling anything specific. Chevron says that’s the point: They’re aimed not at people at the pump, but at policy makers, “thought leaders” and “influentials” — constituencies whose goodwill is crucial for major energy companies seeking new opportunities to drill for oil.
Another audience is Chevron’s own employees. “This is all about building staff morale and keeping the loyalty of the people who work with the company,” such as suppliers, accountants and advertisers, says James Marriott, who tracks the oil industry for Platform, an environmental and social-justice group.
Write to Guy Chazan at firstname.lastname@example.org