Brandjacking: Activist Group Launches ‘Exxon Hates Your Children’ Campaign

One of the few downsides of doing great branding work is that the public’s familiarity with your name can be easily exploited. Thanks to the explosion of social media, “brandjacking” is a growing phenomenon.

In some cases, brands may benefit from being hijacked (see fictional characters like Lord Voldemort popping up with their own Twitter handles, thereby actually promoting the Harry Potter series). But most brand imposters operate with devious intentions: they either want to steal business from the company, purposely damage the company’s brand image, or create clever parody or satire. In the example below, we see a combination of the last two — a clever campaign created with the clear intent of doing harm to Exxon Mobil.

Look and sound familiar? That’s because it’s a virtual clone of recent Exxon Mobil ads like this one. This is brandjacking at its finest (and perhaps most dangerous for the brand being hijacked).

As soon as we hear that familiar music, we know we’ve seen this somewhere before. Then, when the first words out of the man’s mouth are “here at Exxon”, we know that this will be another carefully crafted pro-oil-company ad from Exxon. By the time we hear the shocking statement “We hate your children”, our well-trained brains have already told us that we are watching an Exxon-sponsored message–and the damage is done.

Oil companies seem to fall victim to this sort of brandjacking fairly frequently. Exxon Mobil and BP have both dealt with Twitter impersonators, and after BP’s disastrous handling of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the satirical @BPGlobalPR  attracted over 160,000 followers. Similarly, Greenpeace utilized the logos and visuals of Shell’s advertising to send its own message. It used Shell’s ‘Let’s Go’ campaign to protest against the company’s polar exploration.

Greenpeace senior climate campaigner Vicky Wyatt gave some insight into the appeal of this sort of brand co-option. She said of her organization’s campaign: “The aim was to communicate in a different way about Shell and its activities in the Arctic. It was a way to repackage the issue and to take Shell’s ‘Let’s Go’ advertising campaign and subvert it in a way that made sure our campaign about saving the Arctic reached a wider audience.”

Apparently, it worked; the campaign went viral, the website got 4 million page views and 17,800 visitors made their own spoof ads. The Twitter account @ShellisPrepared reached 6 million followers–one particularly popular message received 10,000 re-tweets. We can’t imagine that brands like these are pleased to see their own marketing used so deftly against them.