Chevron cares about life — not the people kind, the kind that’s been compressed and buried under rocks for a hundred million years, now only found in its fossilized form. In other words, oil.
That’s the message of a new spoof of oil company advertisements from Adam McKay, the director of the movie Don’t Look Up, in which an asteroid hurtles toward Earth in an allegory for climate change. The fake commercial cycles through cheesy stock footage of newborn babies, frolicking elephants, and wind-turbine-filled mountainscapes. Meanwhile, the voiceover savagely explains that Chevron’s products are “transforming the planet right this second into a hellish George Miller film” — a reference to the post-apocalyptic Mad Max movies.
McKay posted the video, created by his company Hyperobject Industries, on Twitter Thursday with the innocuous question, “Has anyone seen this Chevron commercial?” A day later, it had already been viewed more than 4 million times. McKay recently donated $4 million to the Climate Emergency Fund, which trains and mobilizes climate activists, and joined its board of directors.
Chevron did not respond to Grist’s request for comment in time for publication.
Without listening to the voiceover, the parody looks like any other oil company commercial. The playful, comforting scenes lull you into feeling like everything is fine. That’s a common feature in advertisements from polluting companies, as are “greenwashing” techniques to help them appear more environmentally friendly than they really are.
These tactics are often subtle. “Nature-rinsing,” for instance, is a term for when companies use images of the beauty of nature — wild landscapes, green plants, cute animals — to imply that they are eco-friendly by association. Marketing research has shown that these kinds of images really do work, eliciting pleasant emotions and a more positive view of the advertiser’s brand.
The Chevron parody begins with a majestic shot of coastal islands and then proceeds to flip through nearly 40 nature-heavy images in its 100-second duration: a hummingbird pollinating a flower, buzzing bees, and a river rushing over rocks in a ravine filled with pines. Look closely, and you’ll notice that the colorful fish in one shot are swimming over a bleached coral reef — a sign of the destruction of climate change.
The commercial also channels feel-good vibes with an optimistic-sounding orchestral soundtrack. “We have billions and billions of dollars to pay for this commercial time, this cheesy footage, and this bullshit music, all so that you will be lulled into a catatonic state,” the voiceover says, explaining that “these emotionally loaded scenes will always push aside other thoughts like ‘Chevron is murdering me.’”
Another aspect of polluting companies’ marketing strategy has been to paint fossil fuels as a symbol of abundance, integral to the American way of life. In McKay’s ad, the narrator explains that Chevron sells oil so that “an airplane can take a businessman 3,000 miles to have dinner with someone, or whatever” as the video flashes between images of a kid’s birthday party and a couple kissing at a dining room table. It echoes an advertisement last year from Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline. The spot follows two people getting ready for a date — and then rewinds the whole commercial to show you how bad their date would have gone without petroleum products like hair gel or car tires.
The narrator of the fake Chevron ad makes clear that showing footage of happy people and their families doesn’t do anything to clean up an oil company’s emissions: “At the end of the day, we at Chevron don’t give a single f*ck about you, your weird children, or your ratty ass dog.”