Hippies piss me off. Ad-men too.

Shell has recently started showing this commercial here in NZ, although I gather it’s been in use internationally for over a year.

I’ve noticed a fair bit of online chatter about this, much of it generated by eco-bastards decrying the expensive promotion of oil consumption in the age of dwindling oil reserves and man-made [sic] global warming (which, by the way, we all know is bullshit but few are prepared to say so publicly because of this McCarty-ist persecution of ‘deniers’ that’s been going around).

Anyhoo, the ad rubs me the wrong way as well, but not for the reason you might think…

The oil supplies are going to run out regardless of any steps to reduce consumption. It’s not like they’re asking us to stop or reduce our consumption of whale meat or timber to allow stocks to replenish and thereby guarantee supply for future generations – they’re not making any more oil, and running out was always going to be a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’.

Those of you who have been reading for a while may recall a post from last year where I observed that if oil supplies are limited and the use of petroleum products is detrimental to the environment, then it would actually be in our interest to increase consumption to make the oil disappear sooner. Sure it may get smoggy for a while, but then there’d be ZERO oil-related pollution and surely that’s good for the environment, right?

I’ll grant you that it’s a pretty tongue-in-cheek assertion and that personally I’m not looking forward to the day the oil runs out, but at the same time I also think it’s a healthy perspective, in that we need to focus on the one undeniable fact that’s being clouded by all this eco-bullshit:

The oil is going to run out

All this malarky about reducing consumption implies that if we reduce our reliance on oil we’ll be ok. Well actually, we won’t. If we’re even partially reliant on oil when the wells run dry, we’re going to be totally screwed. These hippies remind me of an unemployed guy’s mother telling him to reduce his spending or he’ll burn through all his savings. He’s going to run out of money eventually, and what he really needs to do is get a job and/or move back in with his folks. In the same vein we need to either produce more oil or stop using it altogether. The former is impossible, and the latter isn’t going to happen while hippies cloud the issue with self-satisfied sermons about how much they love their hybrids, and pseudo-scientific doomsday prophesies.

So to clarify my position (God forbid I should be mistaken for one of those tree-hugging, cardigan-wearing, sprout-munching whale-humpers!): Yes, dwindling oil reserves is a problem but reducing consumption isn’t the answer. At some point we’re going to have to stop using oil altogether, and maybe running out is the only way we’ll be sufficiently motivated to develop and adopt alternative fuels. Think about it people – if the oil ran out tomorrow, we’d have affordable alternatives immediately and you know it! The opposite is also true – if we figure out how to stretch the oil reserves for another century you’d better not hold your breath for an affordable hydrogen cell, ‘cos it ain”t gonna happen.

As such – and I’m dead serious here people – you might as well smoke ’em if you got ’em (drive ’em if you can afford ’em).

While I’m on the subject, it also cracks me up how anyone with a straight face could try and convince me that a Toyota Prius is an acceptable alternative to a Porsche 911 GT3 RS. A car is just a tool for getting from A to B? That’s like saying having sex is just a process for making babies!

Anyhoo, the thing that really bugs me about the Shell ad (apart from the cacophony of hippie dissenters) is this. As a result of this ad, some pony-tailed wanker in New York probably got a nice awards ceremony to go to and a trophy for their mantlepiece; the agency got a new addition to its reel for use in new business pitches; and the client will have been taken to exotic restaurants, bars and brothels all over the world during filming. But here’s the rub – the ad may be a visual masterpiece, but did/will it help sell any more fuel? My guess is no.

When I’m contemplating a fuel purchase the only criteria I have in mind are how much it will cost (by far the most important factor); how much fuel I have left (and can I make it to a cheaper gas station before I run out); and – a VERY distant last – what other needs can I satisfy while I’m there (e.g. BP gas stations tend to have better toilets, but the food and coffee is better at Shell). Do I give a shit that Shell provides fuel to Ferrari F1? I drive a ’91 Sierra! What, if I use Shell fuel it’s going to develop another 300 bhp, shed 400 kg and miraculously grow a PussyMagnetTM?

The ad cost $5m to make and yet addresses NONE of the factors influencing my purchasing behaviour. I’m not writing about this because I’m surprised or alarmed by the ad. I’m writing about it because I’m not. This is the same tired old bullshit ad agencies have been churning out for so long that we (clients and consumers) no longer care or expect any better. Orwell once said that “advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill pail”, but I disagree. Advertising should be the rattling of a stick inside a swill pail – at least in that instance we have a relevant and compelling message, an appropriate and cost-effective medium, and a receptive audience. What we have these days is a swill pail, an orchestra playing Sprach Zarathustra, fireworks, celebrity endorsements… you get the idea.

Interesting observation of the day:

Type the following phrases into Google, and count how many paid ads are presented along with the search results (ok, I’ll do it for you)…

Cheap Fuel NZ (1)
Cheap Petrol NZ (1)
Cheapest Petrol NZ (5)
Gas Station NZ (2)

I think it’s fair to assume that a sizable proportion of people using these search phrases has a fuel purchase in mind, yet none of the advertisers targeting fuel-related search phrases are fuel producers, brands or retailers! Why? Because their ad agencies would have them believe that we’re more receptive to their messages while we’re at home trying to watch CSI New York than when we’re actually looking for information to support a purchasing decision.

On the up-side, this makes it a hell of a lot easier for people like me to earn a living. You see, if you can show a client – using irrefutable data – that the money they pay you yields a substantial improvement in their bottom line, they will do anything to keep you on board. That’s why I’m doing quite nicely, thank you, while my former colleagues (from my brief and yet far too long foray into the advertising industry) are facing round after round of layoffs. Dude, I dodged a bullet when I got out of that game!


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