Shell and 'clean' don't match in advertising

While BP pollutes the Gulf of Mexico with around 100.000 barrels of oil per day, British-Dutch oil company Shell is broadcasting a very sober corporate commercial on Dutch television at the moment. In the commercial a Japanese kid plays his electrical guitar in his bedroom. His parents are annoyed by the noise and turn off the power – in Japan you have a switch that allows you to turn off an individual power socket. The message; Shell sells clean gas in Japan, so the people can enjoy clean energy. At the end, a voice-over adds with some tongue in cheek: “as long as Mr. Yukotami [or a similar name] allows his son to do so”.

I tried to find out who made the commercial, but after a few phone calls to a corporate maze of Shell offices, and still no answer, I gave up. No harm done though, I am not planning to shoot the messenger anyway. In fact, what I like about this commercial, is that both the look and feel and tone of voice are pretty esthetic, modest, and even sympathetic. The agency did a good job. If it wasn’t Shell, I would immediately love the brand behind it. But the problem is that it is Shell.

I know Shell isn’t responsible for BP fucking up – excuse my French – in the Gulf of Mexico. But that doesn’t matter, cause Shell is a polluting oil company itself. The only difference is that Shell’s pollution strategy is longer term. The oil driller has spilled an estimated amount of 1.5 million tons of oil in the South of Nigeria over the last 50 years – I found this out a few weeks ago through Dutch TV program Zembla. The oil leakages have contaminated a big part of the Niger Delta. With the footage of oil seeping into the rivers of the Niger Delta still freshly in my memory, you can imagine I get a little cynical when hearing Shell talk about ‘clean’ energy.

So even though Shell has discovered that it’s fashionable to do something with ‘sustainability’, and even likes to use the word ‘clean’, selling oil – and polluting the world – is still its core business. And I predict that this will not change until the electrical car has reached its tipping point of penetration. Therefore I think it would be wise for Shell to lay low for a while. Maybe they should invest their advertising budget in cleaning up the pollution in Nigeria. Only then will I appreciate the word ‘clean’ in its corporate commercials. Actually, that’s not even good enough. Only when Shell starts to shift its core business towards renewable energy –  thus contributing significantly to the sustainability of our planet – I will believe its advertising.