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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

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The Yes Men spoof Chevron ad campaign

Published: 03:06 a.m., Tuesday, October 19, 2010
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TROY -- The Yes Men have struck again.

The activist group fronted, in part, by a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute professor has gained national attention by spoofing a Chevron advertising campaign intending to soften the image of the oil industry.

Chevron launched its "We Agree" campaign early Monday, touting advertisements with tag lines such as "Oil companies should put their profits to good use" and "Oil companies should support the communities they're part of."

But the Yes Men stole some of the spotlight with a phony Chevron ad campaign posted online -- and a fake but authentic-looking press release that purported to be from the oil company and showed off the phony advertisements.

The Yes Men ads contain lines like "Oil companies should clean up their messes" and "It's time oil companies stop endangering life."

Publications such as Fast Company and Advertising Age were apparently fooled by the prank. Both posted online stories assessing the startling campaign that seemed to be from Chevron.

The Yes Men are Mike Bonanno, an associate professor of arts at RPI, and Andy Bichlbaum. based in New York City.

Two environmental groups, The Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch, partnered in the stunt.

Bichlbaum, in a brief interview Monday, said the groups took on Chevron because of what he described as the company's long record of environmental and human-rights abuses.

Chevron officials were not amused.

"Chevron does not take this attack lightly," said Hewitt Pate, general counsel for the company. "We invest extremely heavily in our campaigns, and we take them extremely seriously. Such actions can never be tolerated."

Pate also said that environmental groups have made libelous allegations regarding Chevron's record. He said the company has "always upheld the best values of every country to which we are attached."

The most well-known Yes Men stunt came in 2003 on the 20th anniversary of the Union Carbide chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, that killed about 16,000 people and left many more with lifelong medical problems.

Bichlbaum posed as an executive from Union Carbide owner Dow Chemical in an interview with the BBC network and said the company would establish a $12 billion compensation fund for Bhopal victims.

The fraud was quickly exposed, but the value of Dow's stock fell by $2 billion.

Last year, Bonnaroo and Bichlbaum were featured in "The Yes Men Fix the World," a documentary.

Reach Chris Churchill at 454-5442 or cchurchill@timesunion.com.

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