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Do these 'feel-good' ads really inspire goodwill?

The latest Shell ad lauds Shell's Public Affairs manager for his involvement in developmental and educational projects in Southern Africa.
He trudges through rural midlands to a background of mawkish piano-plunking as the voice-over extols the good that he, a typical employee of Shell, does for these people "starved of hope".

All this is good and well, but the cynic in me decries Shell's possible motivation in instigating these social welfare projects. Are they not simply a smokescreen to draw attention from the environmental devastation often caused by large oil companies?

The ASA recently had to field a complaint against the ad for this very reason. The complainant referred to events occurring in Nigeria in 1995 and a Sunday Times newspaper article entitled "The wounds that still bleed oil...". I view Shell's response that the series of international television commercials refer to their contributions to sustainable development world-wide AFTER the 1995 events in Nigeria as disingenuous. It calls to mind a stretch of pearly-white beach, but with a thick layer of tar just several inches below the surface.

Perhaps I'm a product of my generation. I've read that Generation Y are naturally more cynical than Generation X was about ads that push an image and a feeling. The worst of advertising preys on the gullibility of people, much like politicians. The war in Iraq surely is one of liberation, all right - liberation of the oil fields.

Pity the oil companies, perhaps. With the nature of their product and their past record it must be extremely tough coming up with an effective ad campaign, but I honestly feel that with their present tack they could be seriously underestimating the younger generation's tolerance of their blatant hypocrisy.
Catcher in the rye
Spot on-
I agree 100%. We all know oil companies are the worst kind of people. War, famine, global warming, assassinations, pollution, corruption, unfair trade, 3rd world manipulation and complete disregard for life on this planet sums up my opinion of oil companies. Not to mention the way they have influenced (manipulated and coerced) car manufacturers not to go electric, solar or other for so long it's a joke. A few school buildings, or a tree planting initiative by these people is a bit like the devil giving you a good deal on an aircon once you get to hell. It does nothing for me, fills me with contempt and leave a sour taste in my mouth. However I drive a car and have to use a product from one of these giants. My question is: does oil company advertsing do anything to affect where you buy your petrol, or do you simply use the closest or most convenient place to pump?
Posted on 9 Jan 2004 10:23
The problem with cycnics is that they're never happy and generally don't think proactively, but decry the deeds of others from a reactionary stance. Would this comment have been posted if Shell had NOT engaged in an active social responsibilty campaign! I don't seen any comments of "at least they could build a school or two...' directed against any of other oil companies. Indeed, multinationals all commit evils - some against the environment, the communities they serve and the people who work for them - and get away with it because they manage to evade the spotlight of the media. Let attempts at reparation be encouraged and let the fact that a senior black executive in a powerful mutlinational has been empowered to carry his cimpany's image into the international environment be lauded as a step towards meaningful equity development. There are more messages to South Africa in that ad than are obvious within the narrow confines of cynical blinkers.
Posted on 9 Jan 2004 11:59
Evaluating the integrity of big corps.-
It's all good and well for us to sit back and critisize what these big companies are doing. Especially when they advertise to capitalise on their "social investment". I say let them invest!! No matter what the motive. Our country and land needs it. If they're legally allowed to perform actions that are questionable in the sight of naturalists or other groups - who's going to stop them? I would rather have the lesser of the 2 evils. Let them give back to the communities to their hearts content. Whether it's enough or not, I'm not sure we're in a posotion to make judgement. It's better than them doing nothing!! Another thought is the principle of harmful behaviour in all other types of industries. Food manufacturer's, farmers etc don't contaminate the environment in the same way as oil companies but certainly do contribute to ill health. We need to question half the junk that is put into processed food and vegetables and and and.... killing us slowly is not illegal. The contamination in our homes is frightening yet we don't seem to be too concerned about that. Sad yet true. Make a difference where you can.
Posted on 9 Jan 2004 13:45
Tree hugger
Responsibility ?-
If big multi-nationals wish to make an impact on a younger generation, they should bee seen as truly fixing the evils of the past. If you want me to believe you, show me! Shell has the recources to be able to enter into great social responsibility projects, and involve people from all walks of life in order to create a positive environment. Here's a call to action for you : take the cynics, employ a social resonsibility progarm using the same cynics as your task force, and create a mutually benificail outcome. There are many good cynics out there with their hearts in the right place, looking to make a difference, but not able to mobilise to actually make that change. What is a good intention if it remains just that, an intention. I'm not saying throw money at social responsibility, what I am saying is that Shell needs to be seen as a company that really cares, and is trying to fix any blunders associated with oil companies. If an oil company does have a negative impact on society whatsoever, it is seen as just another element of big business not taking responsibility, so here's a thought, lets all rally together and make society realize that there is more to fixing problem than bragging about intent or moaning about the perpetrator.
Posted on 9 Jan 2004 15:14
Do we need to mention that the person is BLACK?-
There goes the race card again. Get over it. What if the person was white? Would the message then be racists need to fix what they did in the beginning? Shame. Shame. Shame.
Posted on 9 Jan 2004 15:35
Whoever you are, putting down the mention that the person in the ad is black and then getting quite obviously contrite about the ills in our past, is really rather unintelligent and sad! Perhaps tomorrow, get up, look in the mirror and ask yourslf seriously, whether it isn't you with a chip on your shoulder and a racist point of view. Word of advice...GROW UP!!
Posted on 12 Jan 2004 12:15
I find it very ironic that the intial "complaint" submitted to the ASA , which the author of this article refers to was in fact submitted by a journalist and not a member of the general public. What the author also fails to point out is that the ASA found no basis for the complaint and dismissed it. Are we merely looking for another vehicle to fuel debate I wonder?
Posted on 12 Jan 2004 17:33
If you have to ask that question, then you obviously are totally clueless about the realities of the South African corporate landscape...
Posted on 13 Jan 2004 16:27
Realist about the blackness Baas-
I understand the realities of the corporate landscape there Baas, I just think that the small minded new racists should all go back to the homelands or look at the Zimbos for the reality of what happens when you take Blackness too far...
Posted on 13 Jan 2004 16:43
Catcher in the Rye
Debate is a good thing is it not?-
Any thoughts on any subject that bring forth hitherto unknown answers or even more questions is good in my opinion. Sure, the ASA says that the ads are OK, they also say that a blind man walking into a pole is horrible... do they have a clue??? In any event it matters not, it matters that you think, that we all think.
Posted on 13 Jan 2004 16:47
Unfortunately we do need fill our cars...-
...and all oil companies are destroying the environment and causing mayhem to some extent. So how to choose which one to use? I think advertising and public debate are great influencers. But maybe it's also a question of weighing up the cons of each company and seeing who has the fewest. Shell pretty much killed one of Nigeria's greatest voices, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Sure, the government pulled the trigger, but we all know who's pocket they were in. Therefore NO to Shell. Another example of blatant disregard for life, which is more local, is Caltex. The Caltex refinery in the Cape has been poisoning people for years, causing ridiculously high levels of respiratory problems / asthma in nearby residents, especially children. I can't wait for the class action to be brought against them. Can't think of anymore at the moment... So if anyone has other examples of shitty behaviour by other oil companies, please post them - then we can make an informed decision about which petrol station is the least evil to fill up at.
Posted on 14 Jan 2004 10:47
Consumer apathy rules-
They're all pretty much as bad as each other, and the only real deciding factor is convenience. It's a sad thing that consumers world-wide really aren't willing to sacrafice economy, convenience etc for the moral high ground. For example, we're all aware of the conditions in sweat shops in countries like China and India and yet companies like Nike, Gap etc still continue to manufacture there because no-one's really stopped buying their products have they? It's easy to ignore it when it's not in your face. I don't really care for this cynical strategy of Shell's, quite frankly the damage is done. But unfortunately, with the oil companies we really have no choice. We need transport, especially in SA where there isn't a decent public transport infrastructure. However, with companies like Toyota and Honda focusing their most or all of their R&D on hybrid vehicles (which will become more an more affordable to purchase and run) and other environmentally sustainable options, they'd better watch out hadn't they?
Posted on 14 Jan 2004 12:23
It's called greenwashing-
In the environmental industry it's called greenwashing (from whitewashing), where an industrial giant with dodgy environmental practices offers a thin veneer of environmental compliance. They all claim to be well within international standards, where in fact those international standards are disgusting and unacceptable. All oil and motor manufacturers companies try and come across as environmentally friendly. Look at Castrol's, Caltex' and Mazda's sponsorships. Even BP's logo tries to look like a whole bunch of leaves. Where, in reality, these companies are the GREATEST contributors to global warming and the depletion of the world's limited natural resources. Instead of this greenwashing, they should be ploughin every single cent into finding alternate modes of transport using environmentally sustainable fuel. But that of course would kill off their current trillion dollar business, so instead they use marginalised social and environmental projects all over the place. These projects are only a teeny drop in a polluted ocean, that will never make a difference as long as these megalith bullies are allowed to peddle their earth-poisoning filth. And don't give me that "we have to drive" bollocks. These gargantuan oil companies, partnered with the motor industry, expend billions of dollars on marketing to keep us exactly where they want us. Buy this sexy car with this massive engine that guzzles fuel by the tankerload. Look at the explosive growth in 4x4's, probably the thirstiest cars by far. Now tell me they are encouraging enviromentally conscious practice. You are being suckered and bled dry by these giant Oil-spewing, earth-poisoning, wallet-draining leeches. Oh, and by the way the petrol price is going up 31 cents next week.
Posted on 22 Jan 2004 10:18
Window dressing
He is so just a black face-
Firstly let me iterate that this racist thing is totally idiotic, but since someone else brought it up, I will respond saying it doesn't matter what colour the person is doing the job. Nevertheless, I am positive that Shell or their agency purposefully picked a PDI for the ad to show their "transformation". Window dressing for sure. I am not negating that he is the right man for the job, just that he is being exploited by Shell to show that firstly they are socially conscious and they have equity. Makes Shell even more contrite. The bastards. Do they really think we are stupid enough to fall for this cr@p
Posted on 22 Jan 2004 10:30
Buy local-
Unfortunately they are all environmental rapists, but I try and buy Sasol cos it's local. If I have to poison the planet, then I may as well plough my cash into jobs in SA, maybe lessening the socio-economic decay. Tough choice, but at least I'm Proudly SOuth African.
Posted on 22 Jan 2004 10:56
Am I blind?-
Maybe I'm missing it, but I've read the inital letter twice now, and don't see a reference to the man's colour. In my opinion the complaint about Shell has stuff all to do with the man's colour, and everything to do with the fact that Shell is punting their social reform projects one one hand, while polluting the world on the other! I do, however, agree with one of the other comments, in that supporting a company like Sasol at least supports SA jobs, keeping it local. Like they said, the lesser evil. But seriously, leave the racist aspect out of it. It's a crappy ad, whether the guy was black, white, Asian or a teletubby!
Posted on 26 Jan 2004 12:14