Is the Yes Men’s PR Shell Game Working?

by PR Coach

Yes Men's Fake Shell website

Yes Men's fake "Arctic Ready" campaign and website went viral

The Yes Men are at it again. The badvocates’ newest target? Multinational oil company Shell and its plans for an Arctic drilling program to search for new Alaska oil reserves.

The “Arctic Ready“campaign launched late last week. It got a fair bit of buzz in social media and a little traditional media coverage. But it wasn’t a home run by any means.

Yes Men Used All the PR/Social Media Tools to Target Shell

The campaign used every communications trick in the book. Including spin.

Components in their campaign to raise concern about Shell’s arctic drilling program included:

  • Emails to supporters to promote the campaign
  • Video of a fake Shell VIP reception gone wrong
  • Mock website called “Arctic Ready
  • Fake corporate content
  • Interactive DIY corporate ads
  • Kids game called Angry Bergs
  • News releases: Fake Shell release (Yes Men), Greenpeace
  • Social media: Twitter (#ShellFail), Facebook, YouTube, Yes Lab website, Yes Men blog,  Greenpeace blog
  • Partners: Greenpeace, Occupy Seattle, PR agency Wainwright & Shore

  • The YouTube video kicked off the campaign, masquerading as a Shell VIP event gone wrong. At first, the event got mentioned as an example of just another corporate screw up. When the source was revealed, some corrections were issued in media and social media while others highlighted the ingenuity of the tactic.

    The website is the strongest element. It’s a mirror of the real Shell corporate website. Well-written, ingenious and witty, the fake website will make you smile. The home page presents “Shell’s” twisted logic for Arctic drilling. The About page is a funny send up of how oil benefits climate change.

    The web pages have ironic headlines and copy to match:

    Fake Shell corporate adThe false corporate ads appear alarmingly real until you get the humor. The create-your-own corporate ads are fun and engaging but too subtle to have real message impact.

    There’s a game of Angry Bergs for kids. It’s very creative though the music will set your teeth on edge. You click to try and melt the icebergs before they destroy your drilling platform. Of course it’s set to make you lose, costing millions and causing environmental damage.

    Is the Shell Attack Campaign Working?

    Some of the early social media numbers look impressive after four days:

    • 667,400+ views of the YouTube video
    • 2000+ Tweets at #Shellfails
    • 809 Facebook likes
    • 363 retweets of the website
    • Mainstream media coverage, 15 stories, was surprisingly limited so far according to a Google News search.

    The real success will only be known by such measures as number of emails to congress to halt drilling; dollars raised by Greenpeace, Yes Men, other partners; content analysis of media coverage; polling to measure if public supports the efforts of badvocates vs confidence in Shell.

    My take? Partly successful at creating awareness of the Yes Men’s own efforts in social media. I’m not convinced of the real impact on preventing drilling or imposing strict environmental measures. Funny, ironic, slick design and very creative campaign. But too clever by half.

    I blogged about the Yes Men’s recent Bank of America takeout campaign. It was harder hitting. Emotional. This one doesn’t motivate nor really inform on vital issues as well. It feels like the eager creatives in an ad agency brainstorming and running a stylish campaign designed to win a Lion d’Or award at Cannes without making the sale. I’ve seen that during my career.

    Ironically, my biggest critique is the spin. Fake press releases were issued, pretending to be by Shell, saying the company plans to sue over the campaign. Not true of course.

    I hate fake news releases issued publicly or on newswires. They make the media’s job even more difficult.This PR campaign runs the risk of alienating the very media whose support is so critical for environmentalists and causes.

    The Seattle Post-Intelligencer wasn’t happy with getting played. Neither was Cory Doctorow at boingboing. The lack of coverage by mainstream media speaks volumes.

    The excitement of the VIP event faux-pas was replaced by disappointment or annoyance by some supporters on Twitter and Facebook. Hoaxes often confuse genuine advocates. They want to support the cause but the spin seems to hurt credibility.

    Anti Shell campaign

    Save the planet - play Angry Bergs

    I get it. Very clever campaign. It uses all the social media bells and whistles too. Angry Bergs is fun to play. A nice case study for PR 101 class. But sacrificing credibility for creativity is rarely a winning strategy.

    Call me old-fashioned but I’d do it differently. Hard-hitting research that makes the case against Arctic drilling. High profile protests and celebrities. Storytelling about potential environmental impact and native people’s struggles to retain their traditional way of life. That’s the way to connect, to generate an emotional response, much deeper support and more funds raised.

    The best thing Shell can do is let the short-lived excitement and high fives about the too-clever campaign die down. They have a big job to do to assure us they can handle the environmental and socio-economic risks of Arctic drilling. Of course that won’t cause anyone, including environmentalists, from filling up their 4-by-4’s, VW vans and ‘vettes with ever more expensive gasoline.

    Lots of PR lessons from this case study. Will be interesting to see how the Yes Men approach future targets.

    What do you think? Does this stylish takeout touch you? Is it a credible campaign? What could they do better in their next effort?

    Media Coverage of Yes Men Shell Campaign:

    #ShellFAIL Viral Campaigners Exposed (VIDEO) [Huffington Post]
    By party-fouling Shell, we hoped to highlight absurdity of oil giant’s Arctic-drilling aspirations [Alaska Dispatch]
    Fake Shell Video Followed by Fake Shell Lawsuit Over Video  [Ad Age]
    Fakey McFakerson: Mini oil rig causes massive booze spill at Shell execs’ party [Grist]
    Greenpeace releases behind the scenes look at fake Shell Oil video [Albany Times Union]
    Malfunctioning Cake Ruins Party and Spews Liquor All Over Oil Tycoons (Updated: Fake) [Gizmodo]
    Occupy, Greenpeace target Shell, media [UPI]
    Pranksters target Shell with fake news release and video [PR Daily]
    Shellfail hoaxers send hoax legal threat. I fall for it. [boingboing]
    Shell’s Arctic Oil Drilling Launch Party Was Literally a Disaster (UPDATED) [TreeHugger]
    Shell’s (fake) PR malfunction at the Space Needle [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]
    Shell injunction forces Greenpeace to get creative [LA Times]
    [UPDATE] Video: Shell “Oil Rig” Breaks, Sprays Liquor All Over Fancy People [Gothamist]
    Viral Video of Shell Oil Party Disaster Is Fake, Unfortunately [Gawker]
    Viral video of supposed Shell PR disaster is elaborate fake [Anchorage Daily News]

    Jeff Domansky
    APR is a PR and social PR strategist. He blogs at The PR Coach and you can also follow him on Twitter @theprcoach or (

    Visuals : Yes Men Let’s Go! Arctic Ready campaign

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