Exxon Responds to Avaaz Spoof Ad: "We Don't Understand"

This week, Avaaz has been running an advertisement on Washington DC television spoofing ExxonMobil's hypnotically disingenuous ad campaign—you know, the ones where friendly, nerdy people tell you how their work at ExxonMobil will help the environment.

The message of our ad was simple: while ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies now talk a good game on climate change, they're still lobbying full-force to prevent a strong global climate treaty. The kind of treaty Obama can help create—if the rest of us give him the political support to do it.

Well, yesterday, ExxonMobil responded to the ad. Apparently, they were mystified.

"They seem to be critical of our desire to communicate our positions on climate change, which we don't understand," said Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers.

Mr. Jeffers, sorry for confusing you! Perhaps we could be more clear. We have no problem with ExxonMobil's "desire to communicate." It's ExxonMobil's positions on climate change that we're critical of... and the fact that the communications in question don't actually communicate them.

In fact, if ExxonMobil is really eager to communicate their positions on climate change, then they should be welcoming our ad! Take a look:

The truth is, Exxon spent at least $29 million on lobbying in the US last year alone—and is on track to spend even more on a lobbying and advertising blitz this year. While ExxonMobil might not be funding climate denialists to distort science any longer (it lost that battle), it hasn't switched sides in the climate wars. Now, they're just wearing the other side's uniforms. ExxonMobil's strategy is to divert the growing momentum for effective global and national policies by greenwashing itself—and lobbying hard behind the scenes.

Most of their ads showcase research projects or promote the virtues of personal energy efficiency. Unmentioned by the $400-billion-plus company is the fact that their entire business model relies on continually increasing the burning of carbon-based fuels. Watching the ads, a conscientious consumer could conclude that ExxonMobil is to clean energy what the Gates Foundation is to global health. The more appropriate analogy would be Phillip Morris.

(Sometimes the ads are misleading—not just in their underlying message—but also in their particulars: Last year, Britain's Advertising Standards Authority banned an ExxonMobil ad for claiming, falsely, that liquefied natural gas was "one of the world's cleanest fuels.")

ExxonMobil's feel-good ads showcasing hydrogen fuel cells, lithium-ion batteries, and tire technology aren't about "communicating their positions on climate change." They're about calming down a public that has become rightly infuriated by fossil-fuel industry obstructionism of real climate action. And they're about distracting attention from ExxonMobil's own lobbying against the cap-and-trade legislation and binding global treaty that the world urgently needs.

We suspect that, in fact, Mr. Jeffers understands this all too well.