The oil company Shell is facing some heat from climate activists for its collaboration with the influencers of the popular battle royale video game Fortnite, during which the game’s young user base was encouraged to participate in a gas-fueled virtual road trip.
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Shell worked with popular streamers and influencers that play Fortnite to push marketing for its V-Power NiTRO+ gasoline. The nonprofit watchdog Media Matters for America recently raised the alarm that the oil giant has been using platforms like Twitch, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube to reach a younger audience associated with the battle royale game. The campaign was dubbed the Shell Ultimate Road Trips in which players could play on a new map created by influencers who were tapped by Shell itself. Players are tasked with filling up in-game cars with gasoline before racing across the map, taking screenshots, and sharing them on social media with the hashtag #Shellroadtrips.
Shell did not immediately return Gizmodo’s request for comment on the advertising campaign.
Media Matters identified at least six Twitch streamers with a combined 5.5 million followers on Twitch involved in the Fortnite campaign. Those streamers were raking in one million views every day during their involvement, the nonprofit claims. Three of these six streamers cross-promoted the campaign to Instagram and TikTok.
Further, Media Matters says three influencers not affiliated with streaming on Twitch produced Shell-sponsored content related to Shell Ultimate Road Trips, posting it to YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. Together, these three influencers boast a collective audience of 1.5 million followers on Instagram, 8.5 million TikTok followers, and 11.6 million YouTube subscribers.
The campaign comes as Shell continues to engage in efforts to rebrand itself from Big Oil-induced Americana to some bizarre amalgamation of a climate-conscious company committed to the occasional social justice initative. Its sporadic propaganda efforts have often been laughable and even the company’s CEO seems to be losing interest in following through with the greenwashing scheme.
The oil company previously celebrated International Women’s Day by changing the branding on a single gas pump in the entire United States. The campaign was called “She Will” which can be shortened “She’ll” as in “she’ll destroy the Earth just as much as he will.” Shell also dipped into the e-scooter phenomenon, with the company’s inaugural model—the SR-5S, of course—debuting in 2021. That’s par for the course for a company that was formally found by a UK watchdog to be “likely to mislead” with its advertising.
At the end of the day, however, Shell is still doing what Shell does best: drilling for oil. Earlier this summer, Shell announced that it would be slowing its efforts to look like an eco-conscious company and stepping up its commitment to oil production to appease investors. The company’s CEO Wael Sawan explained that the motivation for the push was that the world needed more oil, partly due to the war in Ukraine, claiming that reducing oil production would be “dangerous and irresponsible.”
Depending on how you slice it, Shell tapping into the Fortnite market is either laughably embarrassing or maniacally insidious. Socially priming a user base mostly made up of kids to get excited about purchasing oil for cars they don’t own yet is deeply troublesome. At the same time, however, the campaign also reeks of desperation and trying to be hip with the times. Just let the kids fight to the death.
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