Greenpeace Impersonates Shell to Protest Arctic Drilling

Tuesday, July 24 2012

(Courtesy of

At a glance, a new billboard near Shell Oil’s corporate headquarters in Houston looks like any Shell ad. It features Shell’s name and logo, and their trademarked ad slogan “let’s go.” It shows two polar bears lazing on an iceberg.

Superimposed on the bears is a new Shell slogan: “You can’t run your SUV on ‘cute.’”

Those words are definitely not Shell’s, and neither is the billboard. It belongs to Greenpeace.

In the last six weeks, Greenpeace has hosted a fake Shell press conference, created a fake Shell website, and even circulated a fake press release from Shell’s lawyers, threatening to sue Greenpeace for their internet masquerade.

Greenpeace spokesman James Turner says Shell forced the environmentalists’ hand.

“Let’s be clear about the origins of this," he says. "Shell took out an injunction against us that prevents us from coming within 1000 meters of any of their vessels, which is why we came up with this campaign.”

Turner says the new approach honors that injunction -- and it’s far more effective than any petition or email campaign.

"We would only do a campaign like this -- something that so clearly takes a company’s brand and damages it in this way -- if we have very good evidence of the environmental harm they are causing or planning to cause," he says. "It’s not something we do lightly. We’re not doing it for fun. We’re doing it because there is a very, very serious issue at stake."

But Greenpeace’s fake Shell website,, is far from serious. Visitors can blast through Arctic sea ice in the game "Angry Bergs." The "Let’s Go Social" ad creator is the centerpiece of the site. Greenpeace provides a template, and photos of oil derricks, icebergs, sea birds, fish. You can fill in the blanks, creating your own catchy slogans to match the photos, and vote on the ads you like best. 

The ad generator is the source of the new billboard in Houston, and it’s the reason why the site’s gone viral. Turner says pulled in 2 million page views in a single week.

Turner says he thinks the ad generator is raising awareness about the caveats of Arctic drilling. People are engaging with the subject matter, he says, and that could eventually translate to a bigger political campaign against drilling.

Shell strongly disagrees.

“There’s a credible conversation and they’re not part of it, it undermines their own credibility for the long term," says Curtis Smith, Shell’s spokesman in Alaska.

Smith says he’s not amused with Greenpeace’s tactics.

"I’m asking you as a reporter, how do you feel about being lied to and being duped? They’re saying, hey, this a real press release, hey, this is a real YouTube video. What do you think about it? I’ve been a reporter, so I’m wondering how you think," he asks.

It’s not easy to tell who owns, or where it came from. Greenpeace’s name isn’t anywhere on it. Shell would never post a headline on their own website that reads, “Shrinking Arctic. Silver Lining.” But this Arctic website still looks and feels just like one of Shell’s own.

So that’s what I told Smith. I asked if it’s legal for Greenpeace to use slogans and design that Shell commissioned, and whether Shell’s going to sue them for it.

"So what you’re telling me is you like their graphic designer? Or do you like ours?" Smith asked. 

I told him I couldn't say, because I wasn't able to tell where Shell's design left off and Greenpeace's started.

And that’s the challenge. It’s not clear if Greenpeace will benefit from this campaign in the long run, or how. They might not know how much support they’ve garnered until the project enters its final stages, which Turner says will translate increased awareness into "political pressure.

As for Shell, Smith says their primary concern right now isn’t Greenpeace. Shell doesn’t plan to sue. Instead, they’re trying to clear the final hurdles before their drilling expedition can head to the Arctic this summer. Smith says they’re still waiting on Coast Guard certification for the last ship in their fleet.