A smile so sweet

Could it be Chevron? Suzana Sawyer, professor of cultural anthropology at the University of California-Davis, breaks down Chevron’s multi-million dollar “Human Energy” PR campaign that was launched in 2007.

Chevron is the second largest oil company in the United States and fourth largest in the world. Its ad campaign, which includes television commercials and print ads in magazines and billboards, pitches Chevron as one of us, or better: men and women of vision, people who care about the environment. “I will use less energy,” says an earnest, professional-looking white man while a smiling young African American woman vows to “leave the car at home.”

Sawyer points out that the campaign is probably more focused on investors—on protecting the value of its stock—than persuading individual drivers to stop and buy gas at a Chevron station instead of some other station. In either case, however, the goal is to convince people that Chevron is a positive force in the world and allay consumption guilt.

One group that hasn’t bought the message is Amazon Watch. In 2009, they launched a counter-campaign of “subvertisements” about the “InHuman Energy Campaign.” On their billboards, an Amazonian woman says, “I will ignore the toxic waste pits in my village.” An Ecuadorian woman says,”I will try not to have a miscarriage.”

Shareholder activists are raising their voices, questioning corporate practices from the inside and pushing for greater accountability. Sawyer tartly comments: “This is the power of human energy that Chevron never bargained for.”

Image: “Chevron Shareholder Meeting in Houston,” from flickr user Rainforest Action Network, licensed Creative Commons.

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