"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."
As a designer and car enthusiast, I’m enthralled by the blatant hypocrisy of oil and car companies' visual marketing campaigns, which unintentionally beg to be parodied and rarely reflect their proclaimed innocuous state of affairs. The notion of “stealing like an artist” also takes on a heightened meaning in this context, as my satirical advertisements religiously reuse much of the wording, logos, fonts, and/or writing style of the original ad but for an entirely opposite effect.
For example, the Audi spread parodies an ad about diesel not being a “dirty word” anymore. It also revisits Audi’s old slogan, “Vorsprung durch Technik” (literally “Progress through Technology” in German, translated for the U.S. market as “Truth in Engineering”), rewording it as “Täuschen durch Technik” (or “Deceit in Engineering”), a reference to the Dieselgate scandal (Audi is part of VW Group). The VW advertisement combines a modern logo and layout with the company’s 1960s font choice of Futura and classic 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 first Exxon spread uses a green-washing technique with a desaturated plant photo, albeit more dark and sinister for irony, followed by a spread that reuses the wording of their apologetic ad 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.
I have also made advertisements that take more creative liberty in how they reflect the sinister ambitions of these businesses. For example, the last Shell spread uses a pun to detail how Shell, when they were obtaining an offshore oil drilling exploration license from the Nigerian government, knowingly paid money not to the government but instead to a holding company owned by corrupt former oil minister Dan Etete. Additionally, the final spread looks to the future of Big Tech’s involvement in Big Oil. Microsoft has lately been hypocritically providing 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.
Created with Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, & InDesign. 2020.