Activists seeking to condemn Chevron Corp.'s environmental record have turned to guerrilla-style tactics, grabbing attention with an online hoax that pre-empted a corporate advertising campaign.
A new global Chevron advertising campaign, called "We Agree," was targeted by the activist group The Yes Men, which teamed up with the Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch to erect a fake website that suggested Chevron agrees that oil companies should "fix the problems they create" and "clean up their messes."
The prank is intended to highlight controversies that include a bitter dispute over Chevron's record in Ecuador.
The U.S.-based oil company is defending itself against a lawsuit in Ecuador that alleges at least $40 billion in damage due to oil pollution in a swath of jungle that originally was blamed on Texaco, which it bought in 2001. Chevron says that it was cleared of liability by a 1990s cleanup and that Ecuador's state oil company must share any responsibility.
"Chevron and many other companies are spending immense amounts of money to greenwash their image," Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men said in a telephone interview Tuesday from New York. "We could use wit and humor to get this message out there in a way that interrupted theirs."
The real "We agree" ad campaign launched Monday by the San Ramon, California-based Chevron features a folksy approach with photos of people and slogans such as "oil companies need to get real," "oil companies should put their profits to good use" and "oil companies should support the communities they're a part of."
Chevron maintains it has a record of supporting local economies and working to protect the environment, and has promoted development of renewable energy.
Some news sites were fooled by the fake site and news releases, and later sent corrected updates.
Chevron spokesman James Craig said in an e-mailed statement that the company's new advertising campaign "is meant to identify and highlight common ground on key energy issues so we can move forward safely, intelligently and collaboratively."
"Unfortunately, there are some that are not interested in engaging in a constructive dialogue, and instead have resorted to rhetoric and stunts," Craig said.
The Yes Men has been involved in similar pranks in the past, using satire to counter the messages of big corporations. It also employs other guerrilla-style tactics, such as crashing conferences posing as corporate representatives.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce last year sued members of The Yes Men who staged a news conference to announce falsely that the business federation had reversed its position and favored climate change legislation. Last year, the group distributed copies of a fake newspaper mimicking the New York Post to draw attention to global warming.
Ginger Cassady of the Rainforest Action Network said her group was tipped off about Chevron's ad campaign ahead of time by people who were approached to participate but refused, calling it an attempt to gloss over Chevron's environmental and human rights record.
"We just saw this as a really good opportunity to lay out the real facts of the impacts that Chevron is having on front-line communities," Cassady said. "We want Chevron to agree with us by cleaning up their toxic legacies."
She and other activists condemn Chevron's environmental practices in places including Ecuador, Nigeria and the San Francisco Bay area.
Chevron's "ad campaign is a textbook example of 'greenwashing' -- greening their image instead of taking concrete steps to green their operations," said Han Shan, coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign.
Associated Press Writer Gonzalo Solano, in Quito, Ecuador, contributed to this report.