The #ShellFAIL campaign that Greenpeace and The Yes Men collaboratively launched this week, has been spreading extremely quickly.

It’s been at least 6 months since one campaign thoroughly took over the Facebook updates of so many friends, despite being connected to many of the digital campaign instigators. I’m not counting Kony2012 from March, simply because it wasn’t *that* big in my social networks.

So what made this big?

While the campaign has been framed clearly, I’m not convinced it’s a campaign that lots of people would innately want to get behind. It’s removed/distant from the majority of supporters’ everyday lives, and is a slow burning issue, which is being shoe-horned into having a ‘crisitunity moment’ – basically a moment where if people act they can prevent something really bad happening. The moment in this case are the platforms (Kulluk and Noble Discoverer) being taken up to the Arctic, now that Shell are going to destroy drill it.

Which makes me think the presentation, the tactics and the seeding of the campaign were probably more important in this instance.

To break that down, the presentation of the campaign in order of how it came through my social feeds, included:

  1. the guerrilla video
  2. the interactive and witty subvertising site
  3. followed by the explanation video

(all materials embedded at the bottom)

The guerilla video started a lot of conversations on social media, as good campaign materials should, but what was interesting was the treatment of the media in this campaign. First they were brought into it (presumably with prior notification) and many sites published the initial story, focused on this guerilla video and the irony of the liquor/oil platform breaking. It first starting spreading from the Seattle Occupy crew, and was published by Gawker, Gizmodo, Treehugger, etc.

A fake PR firm, Wainwright and Shore, was setup to try to extend the life of the hoax video, issuing statements on behalf of the Shell event:

Wainwright and Shore regrets the fact that a small incident at the Space Needle last night has been blown out of all proportion by a small number of online sources.

We delivered a first class event, and despite a small malfunction on one of the evening’s props our guests left happy and entertained. The incident was quickly contained and in fact our client later congratulated us on a hugely successful evening.

But then the first major twist came as the video was confirmed as a fake (it was hotly debated in many of my circles of friends before the reveal), with Gawker breaking this next phase of the story.

What’s interesting is the campaign now tries to push on for another twist.

A fake lawsuit is the next stage, reported in sources such as AdAge, and again kicking off more interest on social media (although this phase didn’t really permeate my Facebook circles, but might have been bigger in the US). The release read:

Lawyers operating on behalf of Royal Dutch Shell plc. (Shell) are considering formal action against unknown activists who staged a counterfeit campaign launch event at the Seattle Space Needle

Quite a dizzying ride, especially for the media outlets who kept having to issue updates, and rewrite their stories. Gawker‘s piece has 3 updates, despite being written in the knowledge that the video was fake, while other’s like left their pieces in the bliss of ignorance neither confirming nor denying the hoax.

What is really interesting is by faking Shell’s reaction to their own campaign, The Yes Men succeeded in effectively drowning out the predictably bland corporate response from Shell. Reuters picked up on it on their blog and there’s a strangely terse piece in Social Media Influence trying to claim this press release would dowse interest in the campaign, but what really happened was people ignored it in favour of The Yes Men’s fake lawsuit story. Who can blame them it went like this (pending the update that confirms this also was a hoax!):

Recently groups that oppose Shell’s plans in offshore Alaska have posted a video that purport to show Shell employees at an event at the Seattle Space Needle. Shell did not host, nor participate in an event at the Space Needle and the video does not involve Shell or any of its employees. We continue to focus on a safe exploration season in 2012.

By this time, and obviously with everyone completely ignoring Shell’s whimpers, the campaign website is getting up to full power with people generating their own subverts of Shell’s latest multi-million dollar greenwash advertising campaign.

ShellFAIL subvert The Ramones

This was also initially greeted with confusion, as unless you’ve been monitoring every twist and turn of the above story coming out, it still wasn’t immediately obvious that this was actually part of the hoax as well.

The ArcticReady campaign website is a great piece of engaging campaigning, and utilises the DIY subvertising mechanism so superbly introduced to a UK audience by Clifford Singer’s My David Cameron.

In short

Suffice it to say, I think this was a brilliant piece of digital campaigning, and I’m really looking forward to how it develops next. What #ShellFAIL does share with #Kony2012 is that it flies in the face of the media agenda, and puts the campaign in the public sphere off its own back.

I am really interested in the complexity of all the twists as they extended the attention of the media and other audiences in the story, and I would love to see how that correlated to conversations on social media, eg. per hour more a twist kept the story in the media, what was the speed at which conversations flourished on social media. Would it have made it to the top of Reddit without this approach for instance?

That’s really the key question of this campaign: How much does it benefit from it’s complexity?

I’m really hoping Greenpeace (their MobLabs) or The Yes Men will publish some stats on how this worked for them, as its one of the best campaigns I’ve seen this year.

Additional materials:

The initial video purporting to be shot by an infiltrating Occupy participant:

The “reveal” or explanation video:

The dubstep remix ‘obligatory response video’:

Other campaigns involving Shell

  • One of Shell’s most infamous previous alleged actions, was the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa, which they settled with $15.5 million out of court to prevent the case going to trial. Ken was a prominent campaigner with the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) who were trying to defend their land against degradation caused by Shell’s work in the area.

An earlier and unrelated Yes Men / Shell apology video: