As a designer and car enthusiast, I’m enthralled by the hypocrisy of oil and car companies' marketing campaigns, which rarely reflect their proclaimed innocuous state of affairs. Petro: An Oil Satire is a zine that reuses the logos, fonts, and writing styles of real oil and car company advertisements for satirical purposes.
Mentors: Irena Haiduk (Design Designing, AHIS 3842); Jennifer Wenzel (Literature and Oil, CLEN 4199)
Duration: 4 weeks (mid-November to mid-December 2020)
Role: Visual Design, Brand Design
Tools: Adobe Indesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, & Lightroom
"Despite being a concrete thing, oil animates and enables all manner of abstract categories, including freedom, mobility, growth, entrepreneurship, and the future in an essential way—an insight that recent cultural criticism is beginning to use to interrogate the energy-demanding structures and categories of modernity."
- Imre Szeman,“How to Know about Oil”
Oil has fundamentally shaped the modern advertising media landscape in America, with some of the most ambitious and simultaneously deceptive marketing material coming from petroleum and automobile companies. These businesses’ financial and manufacturing models have largely relied on the extraction and production of oil, a dependence that, while profitable, has heavily deleterious environmental consequences that are not sustainable long-term. As Imre Szeman, influential Canadian scholar in the field of energy humanities, explains, "For the claims, counterclaims, and rhetorical appeals of [oil] industry to function, they need to be seen as more than simply advocacy on the part of parties interested in profit at whatever cost to the planet. Industry groups have made a point of widely advertising their efforts to...act as responsible stewards of the environment."
For example, the Audi spread revisits Audi’s old slogan, “Vorsprung durch Technik” (translated in the U.S. as “Truth in Engineering”), rewording it as “Täuschen durch Technik” (or “Deceit in Engineering”) in reference to the Dieselgate scandal. The VW advertisement combines a modern logo and layout with the company’s 1960s Futura font and tongue-in-cheek ad-copy style, so as to also poke fun at its Dieselgate involvement.
The first BP spread utilizes a real company tweet and someone's response to it to demonstrate the company’s problematic environmental track record, and the following spread references BP’s frequent attempts at green-washing their ads. Similarly, the following Exxon design uses a green-washing technique with a macro photograph of a plant, and after that is an ad parodying the corporation's apology for the Valdez oil spill as part of a misinformation campaign about climate change. Meanwhile, the first Shell ad rethinks writer Amitav Ghosh’s notion of the Oil Encounter as a capitalist marketing scheme, and the second spread parodies the corporation’s excessively upbeat “Let’s Go” campaign.
The next spread ridicules how Shell, while obtaining an offshore oil drilling exploration license in Nigeria, knowingly paid money not to the Nigerian government but instead to corrupt former oil minister Dan Etete. The final spread looks to the future of Big Tech’s involvement in Big Oil. Microsoft has ironically provided Chevron with its machine learning software tools to aid the latter in more efficiently fracking for oil, despite the former’s claimed commitment to environmentalism.