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."
"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.