Is Greenpeace’s Shell Arctic Drilling Send-Up Going Too Far?

While it’s true that the Internet and all it has to offer has propelled marketing and communications creativity to new heights, Greenpeace and Shell’s digital dust-up this summer might beg the questions: Just how high does this creativity need to go, and at what cost?

If you haven’t heard, in a campaign against Shell’s Arctic drilling, in June Greenpeace and the Yes Lab created a fake Web site that allows supporters to create ads that mock the oil company’s drilling efforts, and encourages them to sign a petition against the drilling.

To the layperson, the site looks like it very well could be Shell’s—complete with logo, an About section, a newsroom and copy that toes the line between believability and extreme sarcasm. To understand this site, you should visit the Yes Lab’s “Museum of Fake Websites.” They are also the group behind the fake Shell party to “celebrate” the company’s Arctic drilling effort held in June at Seattle’s Space Needle. As you can imagine, mayhem ensued and the video  went viral (780,000 views and counting).

Not surprisingly, Shell is unhappy with the fake site and the mocking ads, but hasn’t yet threatened legal action against Greenpeace or Yes Lab. Perhaps that’s because all of this might fall under the heading of satire. Or maybe Shell figures it has bigger battles to wage, like ensuring it has all the permits to harvest a potential 27 billion barrels of oil from the Arctic.

As for deception of the public, Greenpeace doesn’t seem worried. “What we’re finding is that people who thought it was real and then discovered that Greenpeace and the Yes Men were behind it are overwhelmingly positive about the campaign,” said Greenpeace media officer Travis Nichols in an interview.

“Positive” is an understatement. As of Wednesday, had nearly 800,000 page views and more than 10,000 people had signed the petition. Great results indeed, but as much as I love to see creativity and cleverness on the Web, the fact that the site may be misleading some people leaves me a bit cold—kind of like in the Arctic.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01