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.