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Shell Has Eureka Moment, But Sends Wrong Message

Imb_shell_eurekamovie_4 Good advertising is based on insights … a singular idea or truth that gets to the heart of a product or brand.  The trouble with insight, though, is that it comes in two forms.  There is insight that can help you to create a great communications message – and there is insight that can help you do your business better.  They are not usually the same.  And when they are confused, you have a situation like Shell’s Eureka film – part of their Real Energy campaign.  There are more than a few people who have talked about how the film has been well executed.  It’s hard to argue with that, as the film is compelling and well produced – easily watchable despite being a 9 minute long commercial.  The method of distribution (inserts in Wired magazine) and postings on YouTube of the short and long videos of the film also make sense (though it didn’t take long for someone to post an embeddable version to get around a request to disable embedding on the original Shell posted video).  The problem comes in the strategy and is actually very simple if you think about it:

  1. Every oil company is trying to be green and get more goodwill from consumers.
  2. People in general are afraid that oil companies are exploiting the earth, oil will run out and prices will keep rising.

Imb_shell_lookplaces_3 The conclusion most competitors have drawn is that marketing and communication needs to focus on positive non-oil messages such as what they are doing to fund alternative energy sources.  Of course they are getting more efficient about drilling for oil … everyone expects that because it makes business sense.  Unfortunately, broadcasting a "eureka moment" of an engineer getting the idea to create a flexible oil drill to suck oil deposits out of the ocean like a teenager sucks a drink through a straw is not a great choice for a consumer message.  Even the online landing page for the campaign does little to help the cause, outlining that the flexible drill was necessary to "prevent all that precious oil going to waste."  Some could argue the oil was fine where it was, but ultimately the unintended message they send is: Shell cares about inventing new technologies to suck the earth dry.

The irony is, once you delve into the film and learn about the process and the benefits, there actually is great value in the method for the environment in terms of being able to use fewer drilling platforms and produce less waste.  It seems to be a great technology advance for Shell as well as the industry.  Yet the visual of an oil company slurping every last drop of oil from the earth through their superstraw is exactly the wrong way to portray the industry and Shell itself.  This was obviously a eureka moment and a great business case for Shell – something shareholders are likely to love.  Using it as the hero story for their consumer marketing just seems like a bad idea no matter how well produced it is.

Watch the video:

Full Disclosure: BP is a longstanding Ogilvy client, though I am not currently part of the BP team or participating in any ongoing work for BP.

  • Mike Keliher

    I think you might draw the attention of marketers from another company besides Shell with this post — a phone company.

    You, presumably unknowingly, wrote about “a cingular idea,” but you surely meant the word “singular” and not the brand “Cingular.” I’ve made the same mistake in writing before, but spell check has saved me. Apparently your blog software doesn’t have that luxury.

    Nonetheless, a good post, as is typical from your blog.

  • Patricia

    Mike, I noticed and was distracted by the same thing. Maybe it was a Freudian slip — Cingular would be well-served to build some customer love too, even if its problem is not being perceived as an environmental rapist.

  • Rohit

    Thanks Mike and Patricia for catching. Typo has now been corrected. Probably due to my seeing the Cingular logo too often on my phone bill. Luckily they are rebranding back to AT&T after rebranding AT&T to Cingular. Come to think of it, there’s surely a good topic to post about in their schizophrenic branding … look out for that one! ;-)

  • Eric

    I got a copy of this as an insert to Pop Sci, watched it too, and share your sentiments above.

    There definitely something to be said about the slick production here, but what about talking to real people (with the right message of course)? There are potentially inherent challenges (appearance, can’t articulate well, schedule coordination, etc..), but doesn’t the implied credibility outweigh all these concerns?

    I just finished working on a video project with the Bridgeport Police Department for Segway (link to It’s targeted at the municipal police audience, but I feel like it’s so much more comfortable to watch – even in a consumer mindset – than the forced awkwardness that Shell is pushing down our throats here.

    I commend the production quality and the slick execution on the DVD, but there’s a point when every marketer needs to stop and ask – does this really make sense?

  • Andy

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  • Chris Barrett

    EUREKA!!!, Nobody seems to notice that instead of the guy showing pictures or drawings of what the “problem” is, he takes his co-worker out in a large SUV way out in the boonies, burning up gas like crazy, just to hop in a helicopter, which burns about 260 gallons of jet fuel in an hour and a half. (Not to mention he almost kills a snake by running it over in his racing SUV, and the cows on the road are breathing in his exhaust fumes while he is there idling (instead of shutting his engine off to save gas while he’s stuck there). I could go on, but what’s the point!?!?

    I can’t think of a worse way to show commitment to “green” technologies than this!

  • christopher

    haha chris – i too noticed that they seemed to be using the most expensive and inefficient methods for explaining the problem to a reporter. of course, i didn’t understand why a man with many more important things to do would be entertaining the press – or at least wouldn’t have put her off until later, instead of interrupting his obviously busy schedule.

    but i have to disagree with rohit’s point about the message shell is sending. im no oil company lover and i’ve purchased a terrapass for my civic, but that message of “sucking the earth dry” didn’t come across to me – and i find the assertion puzzling as i’ve never seen the green movement try to convince everyone that the earth is better with oil in it than without.

    this piece is designed to assuage those who are concerned with how the oil companies get the oil – not the fact that they’re getting it. the film even includes the idea that being more efficient this way gives us more time to develop alternate energy technologies.

  • reviveramesh

    I don’t like oil companies myself but I find that the message the commercial is sending is not all that bad. yes they are showing someone who is burning a lot of carbon to do what he is doing – but the point of the whole thing is INNOVATION and that solutions can come from many tiny little ides. I like that bit and I like Shell for showcasing that.