Commentary

Chevron's Feed-Clogging Videos: Worth The Bother?

From a branding perspective, is it possible to paint an oil company as something other than air-clogging, waterway-sullying, baby-otter-slickening, baby-seal-coat-staining, politician-greasing, union-stomping, stench-uncorking, profit-mongering puppy-punters? That question spans 110 stereotypes over the course of its 25 words – a new record! your move, Maureen Dowd! – but it’s a legitimate one. I would genuinely like to know the answer, if one exists.

Before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, for instance, BP spent millions attempting to convince consumers that it was the greenest energy behemoth, a distinction akin to being the most hygienically attentive carny or the brightest Baldwin. Still, whenever I saw BP’s oh-so-earthily-tinted logo, I wondered why they even bothered. In my mind, the single patting-self-on-back message an oil company can credibly convey is, “Hey, we employ a whole heck of a lot of people. Like, thousands, man. That does a bunch of families some good.” Somebody somewhere can buy that without first putting his brain in a jar on the shelf.

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And yet here we are in the second half of 2015, steadily inching towards environmental apocalypse, and oil companies continue to press forward with their we-have-several-admirable-qualities agenda. This time around it’s Chevron, which has plenty of coin to spend on self-insertion into the Twitter feeds of mumbly shut-ins who like baseball, Bruce Springsteen and not much else. Chevron’s videos find me without fail. They haunt my feed as reliably as the incident with the Segway and the lawn gnome haunts my insurability.

So, for want of a better subject during the August doldrums, I decided to do Twitter a solid and actually view some of the videos. I don’t want to say I’m a hero or anything like that, but… I can’t think of a way to end that thought on a humble note.

The Chevron video oeuvre, then: It absolutely exists, just like Twitter said it would. High-five, truth in advertising! The branding within it even boasts a distinct and consistent angle: Chevron is all about innovation. The company doesn’t press its case with anything resembling subtlety, as witnessed by titles like “An Insider’s Look at Chevron’s Pascagoula Base Oil Plant” (it is to other oil plants what air travel is to stagecoach-exclusive hitchhiking) and “Innovation Moves Indonesia Forward. Chevron Says ‘We Agree.’” (actual subtitle within the clip: “Chevron uses advanced technology to get five times more oil out of the Duri fields”).

Nonetheless, Chevron fully commits to the project (in the most Indonesia-centric way conceivable – but hey, commitment transcends geography). The videos couldn’t be more earnest and straightforward in tone; nothing in them plays like PR puffery. Some, like the “My Storymini-mini-profilesof Chevron workers, do a fine job of reducing a global behemoth to human scale.

In sum, there’s nothing to dislike about any of the clips. Some advanced degree of thought clearly went into their planning and execution. They’re consistent in their messaging and professionally rendered. And yet I can’t get past the question with which I started: Who’s gonna buy what an oil company is selling, brand-wise?

From the clips, Chevron seems like a decent and responsible actor. Then again, so does every oil company, right until the moment a big glop of crude befouls everything in its path. While it’s unfair to tar the entire industry for the missteps of a few, Chevron (and its peers) have to know that it comes with the territory. Chevron gets points for trying, but not a whole lot beyond that.

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