Chevron's New Ad Campaign Is a Slick Yes Men Hoax [Update]

Chevron We Agree ad

Part of the genius of the Yes Men is that they really know when to pull the trigger on a good prank. To wit: They fired off a press release, which we were initially fooled by, to us in the wee hours, before anyone from Chevron could actually respond to real questions for verification (this is an edited version of our original post). And of course, in the wake of the BP disaster, lots of oil-related stories that once seemed unbelievable are now much more plausible.

If we had to get punked, we're glad it was by the Yes Men, who have quite a track record of pulling really convincing stunts. Their slightly off URL, www.chevron-press.com, was a spitting-image spoof of the real www.chevron.com. Also, Yes Men hucksters clearly watch Mad Men as often as we do and were riding high from Don Draper's nuclear-option "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco" letter in the New York Times.

Yes Men's version involved an ad with a smiling elderly indigenous man wearing a bandana, with the words "OIL COMPANIES SHOULD CLEAN UP THEIR MESSES," along with a red stamp that reads "We Agree"—followed by the signatures of Chevron higher-ups. The ad was supposed to be a reference to a years-long lawsuit in Ecuador, where Chevron is accused of being responsible for $27 billion of oil pollution clean-up costs. Chevron.com refers to the Ecuadorian lawsuit as "a meritless case"; according to the Christian Science Monitor, Chevron has taken out quarter-page newspaper ads with defensive headlines like "the fraud of the century." Nevertheless, Ecuadorians appeared to be the heroes of Chevron's new ad campaign. It was fake, we now know.

In retrospect, it does seem ridiculous that any oil company would take such aggressive responsibility for oil spills, poor industry safety, and exploitation of foreign resources. (The real ad campaign, specimens of which you can see here, makes less controversial statements: "Oil Companies Need to Get Real" and "Oil Companies Should Put Their Profits To Good Use," for instance.) Further evidence of the Yes Men spoof's bogusness: each of these ad spots claimed an opportunity for improvement, which featured, in the words of the mock press release, "an authentic pop-culture street-art aesthetic, and ... a sincere slogan followed by a big red 'We Agree' stamp."

Street art!

"Chevron is making a clean break from the past," supposedly said Chevron's VP of Policy, Government and Public Affairs Rhonda Zygocki in the release, "by taking direct responsibility for our own actions." Zygocki also is quoted as saying: "We're telling truths no one usually tells. We're changing the way the whole industry speaks."

Though Rhonda Zygocki is a real person and was correctly identified in the spoof press release, she said nothing of the sort. (What she actually said, in the authentic press release sent to us later by an actual Chevron spokesman, was the following: "We hear what people say about oil companies – that they should develop renewables, support communities, create jobs and protect the environment – and the fact is, we agree.")

The kicker, of course, was the claim that the Don Draper-style radical honesty gambit appeared to be the work of Chief Creative Officer Gordon Bowen. "We were asked to show an agreeable, involved, of-the-people face for Chevron," Bowen is quoted as saying, "and we think we came up with some really great ways of doing that."

Bravo, Yes Men. Although, a Chevron representative who eventually got back to us did not share quite the same type of good humor about this. He had other calls to make this morning.

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6 Comments

  • Gasoline


    Oil is the life blood of our cars. We cannot survive without it’s flow. No matter where we get it or how we get it we need to drive to work and vacation in the woods or at the beach. Don’t pick on Chevron, they are just giving us what we need. Oil and Gasoline are the only way our world can move.

  • Sheena Medina

    Dear Gasoline, I know it's hard to image a world without you in it some day. You had a long, good run at this thing, but as someone famous once said, "Never be sad for what is over, just be glad that it was once yours." You'll move on. Eventually you'll forget all about this, and just be happy as the carbon and hydrogen atoms you once were. It takes time, but time heals all wounds. Good luck out there!

  • Cami Brunjes

    I'm sorry, but the writer of this article is sadly mistaken if they think the Yes Men got the inspiration from this prank from Man Men. The Yes Men have been doing this sort of thing for years! It was most likely the other way around, Mad Men got their inspiration for the Don Draper letter from the Yes Men.

  • Tyler Gray

    The timing is curious, you have to admit. No one's saying it's inspired whole cloth from Mad Men, though, to be clear. I hear Mad Men's doing a whole "Punk'd!" episode as next season's premiere.

  • Craig Hibberd

    Great addition to add some excitement to the news this morning! Who knew you could mashup the Mad Men, the Yes Men, and Chevron and come up with this kind of confusion, apologies, and backtracking all at once. Not to mention the reverberating viral component and probably a few lawsuits as well . . .

  • Tyler Gray

    It's a beautiful mess innit? Welcome to life on the Internet before sunrise! Timing was clearly a huge part of Yes Men's plan, another reason they must be respected--every breaking bit like this at this time is an exercise in balancing confirmation with getting the info out to readers. Also, thanks for calling this an "addition to the news." If we were hiring a PR agent, you'd be a frontrunner.