Shell Game

Nobody likes oil companies. The price of gas seems to move around at random. It’s not hard to assume we’re being screwed no matter which way we turn. At fairly regular intervals we do retaliate by haranguing our local politicians into conducting the now familiar inquisitions into price fixing. These almost always come back negative and through it all, the earth continues to turn.

Still, for some the hatred of oil companies runs a lot deeper. You and I pay lip service to our annoyance at them yet continue to buy their sandwiches, slushes and lottery tickets. Others hold the oil companies in contempt on a whole other level. They see them as heartless, power hungry, manipulative and money-grubbing bastards that seek mainly to impoverish the areas they drill in. They claim they support brutal regimes and allow them to flourish, making gobs of money through their selfish and evil form of environmental rape. If they had Snidely Whiplash mustaches they would undoubtedly twirl them as well. The main offender, by most accounts, is almost always identified as Royal Dutch Petroleum, or good old Shell Oil.

Now, I’m not going to get into defending or attacking at this point. The truth in most situations tend to rest somewhere in the middle, so I think we can leave any specific decisions as to the veracity of either sides’ claims to folks more equipped and certainly more intelligent than I. What I do wish to address is just how Shell has decided to strike back against such charges. Of course, this column being what it is I am sure you have already guessed it is through advertising.

Make no mistake – when you have a public image that is one or two notches below Hannibal Lecter you’ve got a fair amount of heavy lifting to do. How can any company effectively counter the somewhat indelible image that has been stamped onto them by impassioned and cleverly jingoistic attackers? Faceless, global amalgams don’t usually fare too well in these kinds of showdowns.

Shell’s most recent offensive in the battle was fired in the latest issue of Wired Magazine (and I suspect others as well). They included a DVD of their self-produced nine minute movie titled “Eureka.” The movie is remarkable only in what it is attempting to do, which is use creative license to humanize the inhuman, or un-human if you will. They lay claim to a fictionalization of a real person within Shell Oil that has apparently done some pretty amazing things.

Our mini-film begins and we meet our lead actor, Jaap, who is so non-oil company looking in his appearance that he would be better suited rushing back and forth in the halls of the old “West Wing.” Tall and shaggy with very “liberal-longish” hair and a slightly “left-wing looking” few days growth of beard. He is a multi-lingual, obviously culturally appreciative intellectual who would certainly sneer at any loud and oily Texas wildcat were he ever to meet one. Earnestly, our hero plies his trade, (as an engineer of some kind) around the world. He even allows a reporter to tag along. (We have nothing to hide!) He also suffers from a teenage son who is rebelling, albeit softly, while dad is away trying to make the world better through successful oil production. When father and son get together son even plays devil’s advocate and tries to chide his father as being a world wrecker through his firm’s supposed indiscriminate drilling.

Dad won’t let that pass and addresses him with a talking point so quick and neat that it can be repeated by anyone ever caring to do so. Our film climaxes over a bonding milkshake and fries in which Engineer Dad has his eureka moment by figuring out how to create a drill that moves and bends like a twisty straw to better reach all the oil lying at the bottom of existing drill holes.

It is made clear that this breakthrough will better serve the environment, ensure less waste of valuable resources and once again prove the good, hard work being done by Shell Oil, of course.

This is a brilliant piece of propaganda. And I am not using the word derogatorily. This is material being disseminated from a source attempting to state their way of thinking and acting. Is it true? How the hell do I know? The amazing thing is the excellent use of a fictional tool – the short film – to try and wrestle the discussion back to a footing on which Shell might actually have a chance of tying, if not winning, the battle for the hearts and minds of consumers.

The movie does a great job of attaching a human and decidedly real face to an organization that is so very easy to hate. It’s a lot harder to criticize the individuals involved so I’d say Shell is using its smarts by attempting to change the conversation.

Go to www.shell.com/realenergy and check it out. It’s good to watch and see how expertly any message can be manipulated or directed to serve certain interests. Both sides do this, so it’s your job as a consumer to cut through the noise and grab hold of as much truth as you can find.

What will you discover once you flip the shell over? That depends on how much effort you put into being informed. Shell has offered some self-serving help. Interestingly, it’s up to you what comes next.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *