Lucy Shelley
May 16, 2024

Activists 'hack' billboards to protest against Shell advertising

OOH campaign by Brandalism precedes Shell’s London AGM this month.

Brandalism: Claims more than 200 commercial billboards have been targeted
Brandalism: Claims more than 200 commercial billboards have been targeted

Advertising activist group Brandalism has hacked over 200 commercial billboards across London, protesting Shell ahead of its London AGM.

Out-of-home placements on billboards, the Tube and bus stops have been replaced with satirical artworks, with wording about Shell’s “lethal legacy” and how it will “fast track the apocalypse."

Global, JCDecaux and Clear Channel were among the media owners targeted by Brandalism, which said it took seven days to hack all the sites. 

JCDecaux described it as "illegal activity" and told Campaign it had sent a team out to repost the advertising on its sites. Global is also checking its sites.

The Brandalism collective is protesting against Shell’s use of marketing to overstate its use of green energy and downplay its use of fossil fuels. It claimed the ad industry is "complicit in this deception."

The campaign is taking place in the lead-up to Shell’s London AGM on 21 May, where shareholders will have an advisory vote on its climate strategy and decarbonisation efforts. 

Several of the poster artworks, designed by nine artists including Darren Cullen, Matt Bonner and Lindsay Grime, critique Shell’s targeting of young people. 

A 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.”

Another artwork mocks Shell’s sponsorship of British Cycling, showing a cyclist drinking oil.

Havas was also targeted in an artwork by Bonner styled as an ad for "Havas Greenwash". Shell appointed Havas Media Network as their media agency in September last year, effective since January 2024.

The agency declined to comment.

Tona Merriman, a spokesperson 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.”

Campaign has contacted Global for comment and Clear Channel declined to comment.

A JCDecaux UK spokesperson said: “‘Brandalism’, vandalism and flyposting is illegal activity that damages a valuable community resource. As soon as we were made aware of this latest activity we sent our teams out to repost these sites. It’s important to note that people may not be aware that poster advertising funds bus shelters and their ongoing cleaning and repairs—costs that would otherwise have to be met by local taxpayers.

“A recent study by Outsmart/KPMG shows that out-of-home advertising is the most sustainable advertising medium, with 50% of advertising revenues going back into the community and with OOH responsible for only 3.3% of UK advertising's power consumption, just 3.5% of its carbon footprint and 0.067% of all the power consumption in the UK.”

A spokesperson for Shell said: “We respect people’s right to express their point of view and welcome any constructive engagement on our strategy and the energy transition. However, these protest ads are misleading, not constructive and completely mischaracterise the nature of our partnership with British Cycling.

“Shell UK continues to support British Cycling and the Great Britain Cycling Team’s cyclists and para-cyclists through the sharing of technology and innovation, widening access to cycling, and accelerating decarbonisation efforts.”

In October last year, Extinction Rebellion held a "die-in" at Havas' London office in protest against it taking on Shell account. 

The shop’s B Corp status has been under investigation after complaints were made about Havas Media Network taking on Shell as a client. The agency's chief executive, Yannick Bolloré, told Campaign that Havas is cooperating with the B Corp inquiry. 

Brandalism has previously hijacked billboards protesting airline ads in 2022, calling for a tobacco-style advertising ban.

Campaign UK

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