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Undercover Activists Disrupt 'Vote 4 Energy' Ad Campaign

Climate

Greenpeace

By Kert Davies

Recently, Greenpeace got a rare look behind the curtain at how Big Oil stages citizen support for huge oil companies, when activists got inside a television commercial shoot in Washington, D.C. The American Petroleum Institute (API), and their public relations firm Edelman, were filming a new series of television commercials that we learned API plans to air nationally on CNN starting in January. The ads, aimed at the 2012 elections, will aim to demonstrate authentic citizen support for the oil industry's agenda.

Greenpeace disrupted API's astroturf commercial plans by not following instructions and going off script, declaring support for a clean energy future and demanding an end to political interference by the oil industry's lobbyists and PR firms.

Inside API’s Secretive Commercial Shoot

Details of the CNN January ad campaign as described by API and other clips are posted below.

Activists (or citizens) were led through the wardrobe and makeup process, approved for looks by representatives from API and Edelman Blue Advertising, before waiting their turns to go on set. Participants were required to be registered voters, explained an API representative, to protect API from opponents who may inquire if actors stating “I vote” are actually eligible to do so. Other recruited actors were being watched by the industry representatives during their takes, repeating lines like “That (energy independence) will come from our own energy resources—like oil and natural gas.”

Late in the morning, the API Edelman team filmed three unexpectedly honest ‘citizens’ who made clear the script did not represent their real opinions on energy. Greenpeace researcher Connor Gibson of the PolluterWatch project repeated their scripted line, “I vote,” then declared, “But I am a clean energy citizen. I will not believe the lies and influence peddling of the American Petroleum Institute, which would leave you to believe that I am a citizen that is okay with giving my tax payer dollars to billionaires and millionaires that run oil companies, the most profitable industry on the planet.” Gibson stressed movement away from a “perpetual petroleum future” and finished his speech by telling Edelman Blue President Robert McKernan “we need clean sources of energy, like wind and solar.” Listen to Gibson's full declaration and read the transcript, below.

In addition to Gibson, two other participants refused to recite API’s script. Peter Roquemore of the Sierra Student Coalition and Gabe Elsner, deputy director of the Checks and Balances Project showed up to the shoot with the expectation that they would provide their own assessments of American energy. Both decided not to participate once they were fed oil industry talking points on camera.

API’s New Vote 4 Energy Ad Campaign Exposed

In a taped conversation with the activists, an API communications advisor described the upcoming Vote 4 Energy advertising package in great detail. "This is scheduled to launch in January in a commercial on CNN, so it'll be a national spot. API—American Petroleum Institute—bought into an election package, so anytime CNN does anything like covering the presidential debates, cover a caucus, anything like that, those will be the kinds of programs where the commercial is seen," the advisor said. The commercial debuts Jan. 1. How much the deal with CNN cost remains an open question.

The API rep also said, “we are shooting a ton of people so, you know, you may make the cut, you may not, it all depends on the demographic.” Earlier in the morning, API agents were overheard expressing a need for more people of color in the commercials, noting that black and Asian demographics tend to disagree with Big Oil's warped political positions. API has been caught in the past photo-shopping print ads to include racial minorities in purchased iStock Photo to make their already fabricated supporters appear more diverse.

API Busted—Staging Grassroots Support for Dirty Energy

More than two years ago, Greenpeace obtained a confidential memo from American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard, asking API member oil companies to support a campaign to fake a grassroots movement called “Energy Citizens.” Under the guise of this astroturf group, Big Oil would pay for public events similar to Tea Party rallies in support of their absurd wishlist—killing global warming legislation, unrestricted offshore oil drilling, increased tar sands development through the Keystone XL pipeline, expanded hydraulic fracturing, and no form of accountability for their immense contributions to climate change.

Luckily, the leaked memo was revealed on the front page of the Financial Times and covered in the Washington Post, Guardian and on Huffington Post. The New York Times called it "Another Astroturf Campaign," revealing what a fluke Energy Citizens was before Chevron had the chance to bus its employees to API’s first round of staged rallies, the majority of which were organized by oil lobbyists. Greenpeace called attention to API’s tactic by installing astroturf on the front entrance of API’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, featuring the logos of its largest members—ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and British Petroleum and the banner CLIMATE FRAUD: FUNDED BY BIG OIL.

Given the nature of API’s newest commercial shoot, its Energy Citizens rallies where participants had to be instructed to clap (see Turf Wars), and its repeated use of iStock Photos to boost the perception of public support for Big Oil, it is reasonable to question the authenticity of similar PR moves like the “1’m One” or “One in a Million” advertising campaigns, also run by PR company Edelman, which purport to show real people who work for the oil industry.

The American Petroleum Institute, the top lobbying firm for the oil and gas industry, has spent at least $30 million peddling its dirty influence to our federal government in the last five years, and recently announced it would start funneling oil money to politicians. With its $200 million Big Oil budget, API has played a key role in the industry’s climate denial movement by funding junk scientists like Willie Soon and coordinating a public relations strategy to create doubt over climate change.

Recordings from Inside the American Petroleum Institute Vote 4 Energy Commercial Shoot

API explains the commercial deal with CNN (click to listen)

API: "Just so you know, I don't know how much they told you, but this is scheduled to launch in January in a commercial on CNN, so it'll be a national spot...API--American Petroleum Institute, uh, bought into an election package so anytime CNN does anything like covering the presidential debates, cover a caucus, anything like that, those will be the kinds of programs where the commercial is seen."

API reveals commercial debut date (click to listen)

Greenpeace Activist: “So what date is this going to launch?”

API: “Um, January first.”

API says chance of being in commercial “depends on the demographic” (click to listen)

API: “And so to your point though, we are shooting a ton of people so, you know, you may make the cut, you may not, it all depends on the demographic.”

API explains concern over “opponents” (click to listen)

API: "And I'm sure they checked with you but you're a registered voter and all that stuff?" 

Gibson: "Yeah, they asked me. I don't know how you check that, but I am."

API: "We, um...the only reason is really a lot of the, you know, the script is saying "I vote," "I vote for energy," "I vote for..." so, we at least want to be genuine in the sense that you are a registered voter. As you can imagine, there are some opponents of the oil and natural gas industry and so we always have to be very careful of, you know, what our opponents could use against us. And that is, you know, if they found out that we were using people who aren't actually registered voters, or not even eighteen, or whatever, so..."

Production staffer explains how lines are fed to participants (click to listen)

“No they put them in costumes and then the makeup lady takes care of them and then they walk them out, and all they do is the director feeds them the lines and he talks them through it. It’s…he’ll [Gibson] be fine.”

Transcript of Greenpeace activist going off API script (click to listen)

Director, prompting the first scripted line: “Smile, deep breath... ‘I vote.’”

Gibson: “I vote. But I am a clean energy citizen. I do not believe in the lies and influence peddling of the American Petroleum Institute, which would lead you to believe that I am a citizen that is okay with giving my taxpayer dollars to the billionaires and millionaires that run oil companies, the most profitable industry on the planet. The American Petroleum Institute is peddling its influence to make you think people like me are fully in support of [a] perpetual petroleum future. ‘Energy Citizens’ is an astroturf front group created by the American Petroleum Institute to make it sound like there is citizen support for petroleum in our energy future, and we need clean energy – like wind and solar.”

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