Activist Attacks Oil Companies by Shaming Ad Agencies
Environmental activist Jamie Henn, and his firm, Fossil Free Media, are attacking advertising and PR agencies that work on oil industry accounts. Their initiative, Clean Creatives, is designed to shame some of the world’s largest PR and ad agencies in hopes that they will resign.
“We want to get PR and ad agencies to stop working with the oil industry because they are spreading misinformation about climate change and lobbying action to address the crisis,” said Henn. “Our reliance on fossil fuels is driving global warming which will have serious impacts on our environment, health, and economy.”
“In order to address the crisis, we want to see action at the local, state, and federal level that helps move us to a clean energy economy that runs on renewable energy as much as possible,” Henn stated. His rationale for attacking advertising and PR creatives that work on petroleum company accounts? “The problem is, anytime we get serious about climate action, the fossil fuel industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars on PR and advertising designed to mislead the public and lobby against climate action.”
“When it comes to cars, the transition to electric vehicles is coming whether the industry wants it or not. Look at Tesla’s growing market share. Or the moves by GM into all-electric vehicles,” Henn said. “I’d think that a planned transition (i.e. government incentives, tax breaks, etc.) would actually help auto dealers, used or otherwise, take advantage of new opportunities, rather than just leaving it up to the free market.”
Yet, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), roughly half of the reductions that the world needs to achieve net-zero emissions in the coming decades must come from technologies that have not yet reached the market today. To do so would require systems that are bigger, better targeted, broader, more stable, and more equitable. The Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP) said “The federal government spends less than $9 billion annually on energy innovation, less than a quarter of what it invests in health innovation and less than a tenth of what it invests in defense innovation.”
U.S. energy research and development (R&D) spending spiked after the 1970s oil crisis, but when oil prices fell it plunged, and as a percentage of US GDP (Gross Domestic Product), it never recovered.
“Starting in 1984, private funding for energy RD&D [research, design, and development] and U.S. energy patents declined for the next two decades,” the CGEP wrote. “In 2019, VCs (Venture Capitalists) invested just $1 billion into U.S. energy companies, compared with about $20 billion for health care and $70 billion for information technology firms.
“We’re not trying to blame anyone for driving a gas car (or selling them). I drive a gas car. I rent an apartment that is heated by gas. I get on airplanes. I do my best to lower my carbon footprint, but ultimately we don’t have the power as individuals to live a fossil-free lifestyle. That’s exactly why we run campaigns like this one: to try and change the systems that we live within and make it so that everyone has the opportunity and access to 100% renewable energy. My hope is that instead of keeping us stuck in the past, PR and ad agencies can help move us into the future,” Henn added.
Henn maintains there are advantages to owning an electric car. Well, it’s not weight, as electric vehicles are 20-30 percent heavier due to the use of multiple batteries to provide the same power output as comparable ICE cars. Selection isn’t a plus, as there are fewer models of electric vehicles available, at least at present. Purchase price? No, EVs are 20-40 percent more expensive than gas cars, even with incentives and tax rebates. The range for most EVs fully charged is around 100 miles, although a Tesla S can go 250 miles, and other EVs are starting to show higher range. Gas cars get 250-300 miles between fill-ups on the low end, and availability of gas pumps isn’t a problem, unlike finding a charging station, which also leads to range anxiety.
Where EVs may have an advantage is in the overall maintenance cost of an electric car, with fewer mechanical parts, and less frequent servicing required. Pollution is another, as chemical energy stored in its batteries is converted to mechanical energy needed to run without creating emissions. Those batteries, by the way, are good for about eight years, and the replacement cost is anywhere from $1,000 – $6,000, which usually occurs after the warranty on the batteries runs out. Having owned a first-generation Honda Insight hybrid EV, it didn’t get anywhere near the MPGs advertised, and going uphill especially in inclement weather was always an adventure.
Henn’s targeting of agencies comes at a time when the advertising industry, and many different types of companies that advertise, are being hit hard by the economic and societal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Zenith, a respected media planning firm, projects that total global advertising expenditures will decline by over 9 percent for 2020. Traditional advertising is under a lot of pressure (particularly print and TV), while digital spending is showing some strength into the second half of 2020 and the full year of 2021. Henn and his associates want someone to blame for presenting the oil industry in a favorable light. Shooting the messenger may be a time-honored emotional response, but it doesn’t appear to be a very effective method of shutting down the oil pipeline.
[Image © 2020 Jason R. Sakurai/TTAC]
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