Note to Oil Company Campaigns: Stop Being Polite And Start Being Real.
I first watched "Let's Go 2012," the first volley in the second wave of Shell's ongoing we-are-environmentally-responsible-no-really-we-totally-are-ask-anyone brand campaign, with the sound off. This made for a fun guessing exercise: Which head-up-its-ass global superconglomerate had sprung for this parade of generic images intended to emphasize, like, the commonality of human experience?
Initially, I was thinking a big honkin' bank, owing to the clip's calculated multiethnicism and its benign-nurturer-of-the-working-man self-regard. It kicks off at the dark heart of sunrise, with an Asian woman, a Latino dude and a white schoolgirl making their way to work/school via three different modes of transport (train/car/bus). The Asian woman is either a restaurant owner or the stern judge on a poorly lit Top Chef knockoff. The Latino dude works at a stadium and, based on the omnipresence of his walkie-talkie, has many urgent things to say about goalpost placement. The girl shares her books, plays with clay and generally acts in a manner unbecoming a sugar-addled schooligan.
The middle seconds of the clip play up the similarity of the three stories. We see drums at school and drums at the stadium (which suggests that the Asian woman is a bad restaurant manager/reality show judge, because it's a failure of culinary imagination not to pair a drumstick with a drumline). I can't say I understand how the calf massage fits in, though. Maybe Big Pharma is behind the clip instead? There's an industry that sees itself as transcendent global healers.
Finally, having earned their keep by going about their business/math drills in a workmanlike manner, all three individuals head home. The Latino guy gets back in his car, the Asian lady hops back on the train and the schoolgirl scampers home after the bus drops her off… but now it's snowy? That suggests climate change and… Oooh, I got it! It's an oil company behind this! The clip is another dummyheaded attempt by an oil company to convince us that it is a responsible steward of our precious natural resources!
Shell, of course, likes to think of itself as an "energy company," one that fuels our hopes, dreams and carpools with energy juices as pure as the ocean is salty. On second watch, I don't know how I missed the Shell billboards in either corner of the stadium - or the Shell station at the 47-second mark, or the Shell logo at the 57-second mark. Even minus the overt branding, the we-is-transportatin'-y'all! thrust of the parallel day-stories should've tipped me off. Either way, the narration is an inadvertent hoot, with a calm-voiced dude yammering about natural gas and clean electricity, rather than Shell's summer plans to pillage the Arctic circle.
I like my oil/energy companies like I like my ketchup and my women: green and at least 82.5 percent contaminant-free. But really, their pro-environment approach has entered the realm of the comical. No sentient being takes Shell at its we-love-the-environment-so-much-that-we-take-parts-of-it-home-with-us-every-night word, nor believes that BP's decision to color-code its logo to match Mother Earth's new frock will end the company's practice of dipping baby otters in raw crude. A new approach is needed, one that passes the "Come on. Seriously?" test.
Here's what I suggest: Shell (and BP and ExxonMobil and anyone else who's ever inserted a catheter deep into the folds of the planet) oughta ditch the affable/concerned 'tude and concentrate instead on playing up its contributions to the global economy. I'd go with something along the lines of: "Hi, I'm Peter Voser, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, and I'm here with a message to Greenpeace, Earth First, PETA and all you other patchouli-soaked scolds. The message is this: We employ a lot of effin' people, which makes us more middle-class-friendly and a better corporate citizen than Whole Foods and Zappos.com combined, even if we haven't yet figured out a way to work hemp tote bags into our business model. Remember that the next time you fill up your monoxide-spewing van on the way to see Furthur. Have a nice day, or don't. It's all the same to us." Incorrigible, loathsome and pragmatic beats needy, trend-toeing and implausible any day.