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Community Press – Florence,KY,USA: Solving the mystery of the Shell commercial

Television commercials will probably be around for a long time to come, since they help to defray the cost of the programming that we enjoy, and few of us would be willing to pay the subscription fees that would be necessary if advertisers didn’t pick up the tab.

Some commercials are inane (business owners and CEO’s starring in their own commercials), some are annoying (“Head-on”), and some are clever and entertaining (e.g., the Geico “caveman” commercials.) However, most of them are pretty straightforward in terms of their message: “Buy our product because it is better.”

There are some exceptions, of course, such as the purely ideological commercials aimed at smoking or drug use.
 
But most commercials are at least “understandable” on a basic level. In recent months, the Shell Oil Co. has sponsored a series of commercials that are quick, cryptic film snippets featuring a character named “Jaap van Ballegooijen.”

Ballegooijen is shown in a work environment receiving a message from a co-worker, which hints at some bad news; the details of the announcement are never revealed. In another in the series, Jaap is seen with a quizzical expression on his face, watching his 15-year-old son, Max, as his son slurps the last few drops of a milkshake through a straw. The subtitles indicate that Jaap is a man with a “bit of a problem,” but that is never explained.

If any of you are as curious about this commercial as I was, here is the answer.

I figured that if I Googled the Internet, searching for Shell’s Web site, or keying on the name “Jaap van Ballegooijen”, I could find out something about this commercial, and I was right.

It turns out that Shell has commissioned a very slick, professional nine-minute video film entitled “Eureka” featuring actors to play the part of Jaap van Ballegooijen (pronounced “Jop van Ballahoyen”), his 15-year-old son, and a newswoman. Jaap is the chief engineer for Shell in Brunei.

The theme of the film is how the engineer is inspired to develop a radically new type of oil drill that enables Shell to access small hard-to-reach pockets of oil under the sea floor without unduly disrupting the environment. (The “aha” moment for Jaap apparently occurs when he sees his son get the last few drops of his milkshake through the “bendy straw.”) There is a “back-story” in the commercial, which has to do with how the engineer has been neglecting his son back in the Netherlands. (The video can be found at Shell’s Web site, www.shell.com).

Since most commercials are aimed at increasing sales of a particular product, the purpose behind the Shell commercial may not seem obvious at first. But it soon becomes apparent that the video is propaganda, intended to portray Shell as a company of “real people”, and not merely financial statements. It’s employees are “family-oriented”, as the interaction between Max and Jaap demonstrates. It also portrays Shell as an environmentally friendly innovator.

As clever as the video is, the clips shown in the TV excerpts are insufficient to convey the entire message. Unless a viewer actually goes to the trouble to track down the details as I did, they will not figure it out.

What puzzles me is that given the small number of people who will actually work to find out what the commercial means, how can it be economical for Shell to fund production, and pay the fees necessary for the frequent airing of the commercial?

As the King of Siam might have said, “It is a puzzlement.”

Bill Banchy is a resident of Anderson Township.

http://news.communitypress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070629/EDIT/706290344/1074/Local

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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