What to do when you’re a giant fossil fuel company generating billions of dollars in profit each quarter with a new petrol to sell? For Shell, it’s shoring up its product amongst the generation most afraid of the impact that fossil-fuel-driven climate change will have on their future by filling their online lives with quirky buy-ins.
The Dutch oil conglomerate has been buying up media placements in the digital world of young people in an effort to convince them fossil fuels are cool.
The latest move, which has sparked outrage amongst fans, is the creation of ‘Shell Island’ in the popular online battle royale game, Fortnite. Players are encouraged to virtually fill up the new V-Power Nitro+ petrol before driving off to explore six rugged-terrain maps created as part of their ‘ultimate roadtrips’ campaign.
All road trips start with @shellstationsus, and you can journey across six of the most beautiful terrains to experience the Shell Ultimate Road Trips.
Fuel up with Shell V-Power® NiTRO+ Premium Gasoline and hit the road to experience all that Shell Island Fortnite map has to… pic.twitter.com/808n2QwRRJ
— Ghost Whoh (@WHOH) September 15, 2023
According to the non-profit organisation Media Matters for America, Shell sponsored six popular gaming streamers with a combined following of 5.5 million on Twitch to promote the campaign. Three of those influencers also promoted the campaign on Instagram and TikTok. The group has identified other content creators posting similar across YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok to their millions of followers.
“Shell’s marketing to young people is another example of how big oil puts profit over people and the planet, even though it has known for decades that the product that it sells is driving the climate crisis,” Allison Fisher, director of Media Matters’ climate and energy programme has said.
She explained that US and European regulators have been cracking down on fossil fuel industry greenwashing and so those companies have taken their campaigns to harder-to-regulate domains like gaming.
“This new campaign appears to launder its climate-destabilizing product through popular gamers and social media influencers to its target demographic: those most concerned about the climate crisis. It may get by regulators, but it doesn’t make it OK,” she said.
Fossil fuel companies have a history of trying to push their brand amongst young people. Shell has been advertising on Twitch since at least 2021 and sponsored the European League of Legends Championship in 2019. They have also previously worked with Instagram influencers to push gas products to millennials.
Despite the spending, the latest Fortnite campaign appears to have been a flop. Online, gamers have shared their frustrations with the company, stating the campaign seems transparent and “disgusting”. Apparently, young people are more astute at spotting greenwashing than Shell may have believed.
Selfies or it didn’t happen! All of our new Shell Ultimate Road Trips in Fortnite Creative Mode will push drivers to the limit! Get those bragging rights at the most scenic spots on our exclusive missions! Post your coolest selfie screenshots and use the #ShellRoadTrips to get… pic.twitter.com/h6VxnEvJjR
— Shell Stations (@ShellStationsUS) August 24, 2023
Despite the collaboration being reported as a partnership between Fortnite and Shell, Epic Games, the owners of Fortnite, have nothing to do with the oil companies’ maps in their game. Anyone and any organisation can create their own maps for free within the game and share them online and Shell has even stated in promotional advertising that their maps are not endorsed or administered by Epic Games.
Disturbing climate records have been broken with alarming regularity across the world over the past few months as some scientists warn that we may be breaching planetary tipping points leading to runaway climate change. At the same time, Shell announced in June that it would be doubling down on fossil fuels and expanding production after seeing record profits in sales last year.
The company has pledged to reach net zero by 2050 but has yet to outline how it intends to get there. A 2017 survey found that Shell was responsible for 1.67% of global greenhouse gas emissions. By comparison, Australia in the same year was responsible for 1.15%.