Olympic Ad Doping -- But Who Are The Dopes?

What’s your favorite Olympic event so far?  Mine is the Modern Bullshit-a-thon.

And the new ExxonMobil campaign totally wins the gold.

What a wonderful event: an opportunity for viewers around the world to marvel at the nimbleness and raw power of advertising combined with the breathtaking -- dare I say virtuosic? -- dishonesty of the sponsor. Well done, BBDO. You have artfully assembled a series of nominal facts to propound a diverse and attractive, and equally perverse and tragic, Big Lie.

Picture a multiculti series of earnest and smiley scientists, each reciting a sentence fragment:

“Mapping the oceans… where we explore…. Protecting biodiversity….everywhere we work….Defeating malaria….Improving energy efficiency….Developing more clean-burning…natural gas….My job at ExxonMobil…turning algae into biofuels….Reducing energy poverty…in the developing world….Making cars…go further with less….Fueling….the global economy…..And you thought [big apparently un-evil smile] we just made the gas!”



Then a series of title cards: “Many jobs, one purpose: powering the world… responsibly.”

Yeah, this heat went to a photo finish. The key word is the very last one. “Responsibly” -- as in, ‘what is ExxonMobil responsible for?” Well, for a good part of the past 30 years, it has been responsible for funding millions of dollars of phony climate "science" to create public doubt over and political resistance to rational environmental policy. The UK's national academy of science, The Royal Society, dubbed it a “disinformation campaign.”

This I happened to confirm personally with ExxonMobil Senior Advisor for Global Affairs Richard Keil on my radio program -- during which conversation he steadfastly denied that the company is currently bankrolling climate skepticism. 

KEIL: Bob, we don't, we don't, we don't fund those groups -- as the science has emerged and become clearer, we're more committed than ever to researching this important topic.

ME: We don't fund them or we didn't fund them? You got out of the funding business 2009 or some such, but for 20 years before that, you poured --

KEIL: Bob, I'm gonna finish my thought here, Bob.

ME: Please clarify this for me: Are not funding, or did not fund them?

KEIL: We are not funding. (Italics mine. Shamelessness Exxon’s)

He may even be bullshitting in the present tense; ExxonMobil beneficiaries are still hard at work fighting climate action. Meanwhile,  at least three state attorneys general are looking into whether Exxon -- which until 1985 had one of the most robust climate-science infrastructures in the world -- learned one story from their own data and told another one to the public, including its own investors.  In fact, the very first words of the new commercial may describe the smoking gun: data, on carbon absorption into the oceans, collected in sea mapping by the company itself.

In New York, we have laws against defrauding the public, defrauding consumers, defrauding shareholders,” state attorney general Eric Schneiderman told PBS. 

“In the 1980s, they were putting out some very good studies about climate change. They were compared to Bell Labs as being at the leadership of doing good scientific work. And then they changed tactics for some reason, and their numerous statements over the last 20 years or so that question climate change, whether it’s happening, that claim that there is no competent model for climate change.”

Because doubt stops action. And it did. And it persists, even among GOP leaders, such as the ignoramus climate-denying chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, James Inhofe. 

But now, under siege, and with oil prices doing to revenues what the Valdez did to Prince William Sound, ExxonMobil is using advertising to portray itself as a responsible climate citizen. As spokesman Alan Jefffers put it: “We're helping people understand that we're working on new technology to further reduce environmental impacts by talking about research into algae-based fuels and better ways to capture carbon dioxide -- and how we're helping consumers reduce their environmental footprint, too.”  

You’re helping us? Uh huh. You won the Bullshit-a-Thon. You have your medal…but ask the Russian athletes about what happens next. There are investigations underway. Don’t celebrate just yet.

2 comments about "Olympic Ad Doping -- But Who Are The Dopes?".
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  1. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, August 15, 2016 at 1:21 p.m.

    Excellent piece, as always, Bob! I had the same reaction to those Exxon spots. Such BS, they must represent something of a high (or if you prefer, low) mark for self-parody.  Do any of the creative awards shows recognize this specialized category of messaging excellence? If they did, BBDO would retire the trophy.  Along with pharmaceuticals and miracle weight-loss plans, this kind of disinformation marketing reinforces the worst stereotypes about advertising and the people who create it. 

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 15, 2016 at 1:53 p.m.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, how much damage have they done and doing to destroy generations of the evironment and human brains ? Where is the responsibility to stop this ? Cigarettes are good for you. Yes, they are still peddaling this snake oil in other countries. 

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