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Social media oil spill

Read time 2min 30sec

Shell has been targeted in an elaborate fake PR campaign, orchestrated by Greenpeace and the Yes Men.

Designed to look like a legitimate Shell campaign to educate

the public on its proposed Arctic energy production programme, the Arctic Ready site and accompanying social media campaign even had some news organisations believing Shell was in the midst of a self-created PR disaster.

The Yes Men is a group of prankster activists, known for creating hoax Web sites of major corporations. “Impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Our targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else,” says its Web site.

The campaign has been carried out over the last couple of months, with the release of a video portraying the launch-gone-wrong of Shell's arctic programme at the Seattle Space Needle, the spread of the hashtag #ShellFAIL, and the elaborate Web site - including the “Angry Bergs” game for kids and the social media competition.

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The Arctic Ready spoof Web site imitates the look of the Arctic section on Shell's own site. The most viral element of the site is its crowd-sourced ad campaign in which people are encouraged to create their own adverts for Shell's Arctic campaign. People can choose from a range of Arctic images, to overlay their own slogan together with Shell's slogan “Let's Go”. These ads could then be shared across the social networks.

The result was a plethora of anti-Shell slogans. Some of the most popular adverts included slogans such as: “Birds are like sponges... For oil. Let's go”; “You can't run your SUV on 'cute'. Let's go”; and “It's time somebody took revenge for the Titanic. Let's go.”

The fake campaign turned into a bona fide PR disaster for Shell, as the public believed it to be an official campaign. PR disasters on social media are not new for major corporations. Early this year the McDonald's “McDStories” Twitter campaign was hijacked by horror stories about the restaurant's food (with the encouragement of activist groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

The Arctic Ready site has reportedly seen a recent spike in traffic (1.8 million views in two days alone this week) as the public began to believe Shell had genuinely tried to experiment with social media and failed dismally. This was further spurred on by a fake Shell PR Twitter account that appeared to attempt to do some damage control on the social network by asking people not to share the offensive adverts.

While the Arctic Ready campaign achieved its goal of public brand assassination and continues to amuse (and confuse), some commentators have criticised Greenpeace for manipulating the media and the public.

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