Greenpeace vs. Shell: When a company hijacks your brand

Over the last couple of months the folks at Greenpeace have been busy bees in the social media scene. They have taken it upon themselves to post videos, create a website, and Tweet all on Shell’s behalf – essentially hijacking the company’s social media presence for their own benefit, to raise awareness about oil drilling in the Arctic. As you may have guessed, the campaign sparked anger with many people who didn’t know the “messaging” was really coming from Shell’s arch enemy, Greenpeace.

For those of you who haven’t been following the Greenpeace vs. Shell battle online, here’s what’s been happening over the last couple of months.

  • Greenpeace kicks off their campaign by posting a YouTube video of a fake Shell party celebrating the oil drilling in the Arctic. The video stunt shows a sweet old lady playing with a model oil rig that pours drinks. It then bursts and covers her in a black liquid.
  • Next, Greenpeace distributes a fake news release denying Shell’s involvement in the launch party.
  • They then created a hoax Shell website showcasing Arctic wildlife and oil drilling with a new slogan, “let’s go.” Users are encouraged to add captions to the photos.

The icing on the cake was the fake Twitter account that had “Shell” complaining about the recent PR stunts. They even posted tweets about suing those involved.

Not only did Greenpeace pull off hoax PR stunts, but they also quickly fired back with responses “allegedly” from Shell, before Shell could actually react to the stunt – essentially throwing the oil giant completely off guard.

Greenpeace has always been known for their activist stunts, especially in their early days. However, now they’re a mainstream non-profit with a broad range of followers.

So the big question is: Did this series of stunts work? There are many ways of looking at this but the facts are clear:

  • So far there have been more than 800,000 views of the video.
  • The fake Shell Twitter account has more than 3,000 followers.
  • Greenpeace created awareness about an issue they wanted the public to know about.

Based on the facts above I would say that Greenpeace’s hoax campaign was a success simply based on the objectives met. It’s been less than two months and these numbers are only going to rise. The viral effect it has had will make it difficult for Shell to clean up. The content that has been created will always be floating around online.

The big question is, did they take the hoax too far? Probably. It’s one thing to create a PR video stunt, but it’s a completely different story to hijack someone else’s name and brand and assume their identity – which raises a serious question of ethics. Though the campaign was a success in regards to awareness, Greenpeace may have lost some allies along the way.


Alastair Hubbard is a Consultant of Online Media at Curve Communications