Hacked billboards protest Shell’s dodgy PR tactics in climate protest ahead of London AGM

15 Mai 2024

Press contact: Tona Merriman, +447547320072, brandalism.project@gmail.com

Oil giant Shell’s tobacco-style PR tactics have been targeted in a guerrilla billboarding action across London, Manchester and other core UK cities in the run up to Shell’s AGM in London.

In the clandestine operation, Brandalism activists replaced more than 200 commercial adverts on billboards, bus stops and tube carriages with satirical artworks protesting Shell’s efforts to “fast track the apocalypse”, as shareholders prepare to vote on Shell’s weak climate strategy.

Above: art design by Darren Cullen. Installed near Shell’s AGM in London by Brandalism activists.

Activists and artists involved in the action say that Shell is using youth marketing, sports sponsorships and political lobbying to maintain the firm’s reputation during their expanding fossil fuel production and recent u-turns on green pledges

Tona Merriman from Brandalism said: To quote the tobacco marketers of the 1980s, “The problem is how do you sell death?”. Shell is on a mission to sell its own lethal legacy, using influencers, greenwash advertising, sports sponsorship and political connections to deflect attention from its growing contribution to climate breakdown, which is reversing decades of progress in health and causing death and destruction worldwide. 

Shell’s insidious tactics are straight out of Big Tobacco’s playbook, enabled by a toxic coterie of advertising and PR agencies who should be helping to kick fossil fuel companies into history, not boosting their brand.

Following in the footsteps of Big Tobacco, Shell and other fossil fuel companies are systematically targeting children in its advertising and associating with the clean and healthy world of athleticism.

One poster by artist Camille Aboudaram shows a child’s dummy embossed with a Shell logo, with the slogan “At Shell, we are courting the customers of tomorrow”. Shell increasingly spends its marketing budget to reach younger audiences, including via social media influencers and controversial promotions within the video game Fortnite.

Above: art design by Camille Aboudaram. Installed in Norwich. Photo credit: Ann Nicholls.

Emissions from fossil fuels produced by Shell and four other top oil and gas firms could result in 11.5 million excess deaths from heat by 2100, according to analysis by Global Witness. Shell alone is responsible for around 1.2% of all global emissions between 2016-2022, with the firm’s contribution to climate change dating back to 1897.

Despite this, Shell CEO Wael Sawan has rowed back on green pledges amid rocketing profits, saying he wants to “reward our shareholders”. In early May 2024, Shell reported first quarter profits of $8 bn (£6.15 bn) and announced a $3.5bn (£2.79 bn) share buy-back. 

London-based artist Darren Cullen, who designed one of the poster artworks, said: As pressure mounts on fossil fuel giants like Shell, they’ve launched increasingly desperate misinformation campaigns against young people, using sports sponsorships, video games and even surfers to try and greenwash their apocalyptic brand. 

But this deceitful strategy is falling flat, as more and more people realise how at odds this marketing is with Shell’s expansion of oil and gas drilling in the real world.« 

Several of the artworks, designed by nine artists including Klarissa Katz, Matt Bonner, Darren Cullen and Lindsay Grime, call out Shell’s association with fitness influencers and sports organisations. Shell-sponsored surfer Sage Erickson is shown surfing an sickly multicoloured oil slick in a piece by Michelle Tylicki, while billboard posters installed in Manchester show a cyclist drinking oil, mocking Shell’s controversial sponsorship of Manchester-based British Cycling, which led to hundreds of membership cancellations and the resignation of the cycling organisation’s former CEO.

Above: artwork by Michelle Tylicki. Installed In Bristol. Pro-surfer Sage Erickson is sponsored by Shell.
Above: artwork by Anarcha Art. Installed near British Cycling’s HQ in the National Cycling Centre in Manchester.

Another by artist Lindsay Grime is a critique of Shell’s ties to UK politicians and lobby groups, in the style of a Shell recruitment ad, with the text “We’re Hiring!” “Join our growing team of MPs and peers fighting for our future in the heart of Westminster”.

This artwork, and one by Klarissa Katz featuring a skull-faced Shell exec moving the time forwards on Big Ben’s clock face and the words « We’re working overtime in Westminster » were installed on Westminster Bridge Road, a stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament.

Above: art design by Klarissa Katz, installed on Westminster Bridge Road, London.
Above: art design by Lindsay Grime. Installed in London.

Ad agency Havas London, who’ve seen backlash from employees and climate activists and threats to their B-Corp status over their work for Shell, are name-checked in one artwork by Matt Bonner which is styled as an advert for a cleaning product, « Havas Greenwash ». 

Above: artwork by Matt Bonner. Installed In London, home of Shell’s ad agency Havas London.

Commenting on the action, Freddie Daley from the Badvertising campaign, who are calling for a tobacco-style ban on fossil fuel advertising, said: In recent years, Shell has shown that it has no intention of building a low-carbon energy system and a habitable future. By using sports sponsorship, lobbying and social media influencers, Shell is desperate to maintain its reputation as the firm cashes in on climate chaos. The only way to break this cycle of misinformation and underhand tactics is to bring in tobacco-style restrictions on fossil fuel advertising.”

Shell’s 2023 AGM was heavily disrupted by activists who delayed the start of the meeting, in which investors rejected new targets for carbon emissions cuts. Protests are expected this year amid Shell’s rocketing profits, green u-turns, weak climate strategy and worsening environmental legacy.

Brandalism are calling for sports organisations, shareholders, local authorities and advertising agencies to reject money from Shell and other fossil fuel companies.

Below and featured artwork by Darren Cullen, installed by Brandalism activists by Shell’s London AGM venue.

Above: art design by Michelle Tylicki.
Above: « Proudly Polluting Politics » art design by Lindsay Grim. Installed in Westminster, London.
Above: art design by Matt Bonner. Installed in Bristol.