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Shell social media oil spill a ‘coordinated online assassination’

Shell social media oil spill a ‘coordinated online assassination’

Asher Moses

Asher Moses: Technology Editor: July 19, 2012 – 12:26PM

Shell’s brand has been hijacked in what marketing experts say is a “social media oil spill” and a “coordinated online assassination of the Shell brand”.

Shell now have the equivalent of a social media oil spill on their hands but one they have no control of. 

It’s a fake PR disaster that has snowballed into a very real one for Shell as web users are under the impression that it is an official company campaign.

It started when an Arctic Ready website appeared online about two months ago that looked almost identical to the Arctic section on Shell’s own site.

The site appeared to be an educational site about Shell’s oil drilling in the Arctic – complete with “Angry Bergs” kids game – but invited people to create their own ads by adding their own marketing copy over supplied photographs of the Arctic. User-generated ads could then be shared on social media.

Then on June 7 a video appeared on YouTube titled “#ShellFAIL: Private Active Launch Party Goes Wrong“.

The clip appears to be of a real Shell press conference at the Seattle Space Needle and shows a model oil rig “malfunctioning” and spraying oil on horrified attendees. At the end a Shell security rep tries to block the person recording video of the scene.

This week, the spoof user-generated “let’s go” ads have started spreading across social media like wildfire.

For all intents and purposes, it looks like a real Shell marketing idea that has spun out of control, and Shell is attempting to contain the scandal just as clumsily as BP’s response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

But in reality, Shell had nothing to do with any of it as the Arctic Ready website, and the viral video, were created by activists Greenpeace and The Yes Men.

A Shell “Social Media Team” Twitter account @ShellsPrepared is spraying out tweets to people telling them to stop posting ads from the Arctic Ready site and that Shell’s legal team would be coming after them.

It also has tweeted repeatedly that the account is in fact a legitimate Shell account. But of course, it, too is a fake. Not that web users realise.

Mentions of the term #arcticready on Twitter have skyrocketed since July 16.

Today Greenpeace published another spoof YouTube video showing oil rig workers using a finger and mop to cap and clean an oil spill.

Iain McDonald, founder of marketing agency Amnesia Razorfish, said the Greenpeace campaign showed how quickly punters would seize opportunities to “troll” big brands. The activist group “set a perfect trap and created an authentic looking and believable Shell clone site”.

“Shell now have the equivalent of a social media oil spill on their hands but one they have no control of,” he said.

Shell referred Fairfax Media to an old statement saying the campaign is a fake but has refused to comment further or take legal action.

“As an observer it would seem Greenpeace actually wants Shell to take legal action, which of course would draw even further attention to their campaign,” said McDonald.

“For Shell it’s the nightmare of juggling perception and reality and right now they are probably damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

“My only advice to Shell in this instance would be to suggest that they launch a fake Greenpeace site and laugh it off.”

Tiphereth Gloria, social media strategist at VML Australia, said it was the most advanced brand hijack she had seen since the spoof Nestle ads showing a man opening a Kit Kat and biting into an orangutan finger instead of a chocolate bar.

This was also a Greenpeace campaign, this time protesting against Nestle’s use of palm oil. But Gloria said the Shell spoof was more advanced.

“Kit Kat was a hijack of just one particular part of the brand whereas this is hijacking the actual brand response,” she said.

“It’s behaving, smelling, looking as though it was Shell under siege so the only way that you would ever know that it wasn’t Shell is through the Twitter ‘verified account’ but I know that a lot of brands haven’t gone through the verified account process.”

Gloria said she saw a real Shell “Let’s Go” banner advertisement on a US site that “looks identical” to the spoof Arctic Ready site.

She said Greenpeace had realised that it was much more effective to campaign online rather than appearing as “hippy do-gooders”. Why chain yourself to polar bears in the Arctic when you can create a fake Twitter page and do more damage?

Gloria criticised Shell’s response, saying it was behaving too “corporate” and not adequately responding to the campaign in the channels where the hijacking is occurring.

“They mistakenly believe they will give Greenpeace traction by ‘dignifying’ a response. Unfortunately the opposite is occurring – by not responding, Shell look corporate and out of touch,” she said.

According to the Aon Australasian Risk Survey of 340 companies in the Asia Pacific, damage to brand and image have been the top risk concern for Australian companies for the past five years.

James Griffin, partner with social media monitoring firm SR7, said social media had enabled modern day activism to reach an entire new level.

“Large organisations often put a value on their brand, and having their brand attacked and ridiculed via such an innovative approach is something the modern corporation must come to grips with,” he said.

“This is a coordinated online assassination of the Shell brand.  These activists have basically appropriated the Shell brand online and are doing a very good job of generating a conversation, not only about the issue they are trying to highlight but also the campaign itself.

Earlier this week it was reported that a Shell Oil drilling ship lost its mooring in Alaska’s Dutch Harbor, but the Coast Guard reported no damage.


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