Last Thursday somebody on Youtube called "kstr3l" posted a video from his phone of a Shell PR event gone horribly, hilariously wrong. By Friday afternoon it had already been watched 500,000 times, and was making the rounds with the tag #ShellFAIL. Then journalists who had covered the story received a threatening email to cut it out, calling the whole thing an environmental activist hoax and directing people to a website about the company's arctic oil drilling plans.
The event was a hoax, and so was the follow-up email and the website with its often hilarious-if-it-wasn't-true fake Shell marketing copy. From the ArcticReady.com homepage: "That's why we at Shell are committed to not only recognize the challenges that climate change brings, but to take advantage of its tremendous opportunities. And what's the biggest opportunity we've got today? The melting Arctic."
This is the backstory.
With help from the Yes Men, we built the special Arctic Ready website for Shell, which houses our new advertisements, plus a tool for you to create your own. Take a moment to choose a picture and add your own message – there are some great ones up already. We’ve even built a charming kids’ game – Angry Bergs – to keep the little 'uns happy. Watch the dollars flood in as you protect your oil platform from those pesky natural hazards. Unsinkable.
But the centerpiece of the campaign was a gala event we created to give Shell’s drilling rigs (which are currently docked in Seattle) the send off they deserved. We hired the Skyline room at the Space Needle, invited a host of local energy leaders, and brought in a large team of actors. The piece de resistance was a beautiful ice sculpture which rested in a bath of cola next to a scale model of the Kulluk drill rig.
But something went 'wrong'. As our guest of honor turned on the spigot to get the black gold flowing, there was an uncontrolled blowout. Sadly, in such a remote setting no one had the right equipment to deal with it. The elderly lady who caught the spurt full in the face was supposedly the widow of the rig’s original designer – but it was actually 84-year-old Occupy activist Dorli Rainey who was pepper sprayed last year.
Shell’s harried reps did their best to contain the unfolding PR disaster, but alas the footage somehow got out. The resulting video has been viewed over half a million times already, generated a dubstep remix and sparked an entirely new brand: #shellfail.