One of the satirical billboards with artwork by Darren Cullen put up ahead of the Shell AGM.
One of the satirical billboards with artwork by Darren Cullen put up ahead of the Shell AGM. Copyright Brandalism
Copyright Brandalism
Copyright Brandalism

Satirical posters protesting Shell’s ‘lethal legacy’ replace 200 adverts across the UK

By Rosie Frost
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Activism collective Brandalism claims the fossil fuel company’s tactics are “straight out of Big Tobacco’s playbook”.

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Activists from the anonymous collective Brandalism have replaced more than 200 adverts around the UK without permission with satirical posters protesting what it says is Shell’s “lethal legacy”.

They are calling for sports organisations, shareholders, local authorities and advertising agencies to reject money from Shell and other fossil fuel companies.

This guerrilla protest action comes just days before shareholders are due to meet for the oil company’s AGM on 21 May.

Brandalism says its stunt “takes aim at Shell’s political lobbying and the oil major's use of marketing strategies to maintain the firm's reputation during their expanding fossil fuel production.”

A cyclist looks at one of the satirical adverts in Reading, UK.
A cyclist looks at one of the satirical adverts in Reading, UK. Brandalism

“To quote the tobacco marketers of the 1980s, “The problem is how do you sell death?” says Tona Merriman, a spokesperson for Brandalism.

The artist and activist collective uses ‘subvertising’ - the art of subverting advertising - to counter advertising by major polluters.

“Shell is on a mission to sell its own lethal legacy, using influencers, greenwash advertising, sports sponsorship and political connections to deflect attention from its growing contribution to climate breakdown,”’ they say.

Merriman claims the fossil fuel company’s tactics are “straight out of Big Tobacco’s playbook”, enabled by a “toxic coterie” of advertising and PR agencies.

Cyclists drinking oil and Shell-branded dummies

The poster artworks, designed by nine different artists, call out the oil company’s sponsorship of sports organisations and what they say are advertising campaigns specifically targeting young people.

Activists put up Camille Aboudaram's satirical billboard.
Activists put up Camille Aboudaram's satirical billboard.Brandalism

One of the posters by artist Camille Aboudaram shows a child’s dummy embossed with Shell’s logo. The text above reads “At Shell, we are courting the customers of tomorrow” while below it accuses the company of targeting young people through influencers and ads on platforms like TikTok, Twitch and YouTube.

A satirical billboard in Manchester shows a cyclist drinking oil.
A satirical billboard in Manchester shows a cyclist drinking oil. Brandalism

Another work installed in Manchester shows a cyclist drinking oil, mocking Shell’s controversial sponsorship of Manchester-based British Cycling.

Commenting on Brandalism’s action, Freddie Daley from campaign group Badvertising says the only way to “break this cycle of misinformation and underhand tactics” is with tobacco-style restrictions on fossil fuel advertising.

The activist and artist collective has put up more than 200 satirical posters without permissions across the UK.
The activist and artist collective has put up more than 200 satirical posters without permissions across the UK. Brandalism

Artists say shareholders should ‘vote for our future’

At the AGM next week, shareholders are due to vote on a climate resolution filed by 27 of Shell investors and green investor group Follow This. The resolution puts pressure on the company to align its emissions targets with Paris Agreement targets.

Shell's board has urged shareholders vote against this resolution.

“As pressure mounts on fossil fuel giants like Shell, they’ve launched increasingly desperate misinformation campaigns against young people, using sports sponsorships, video games and even surfers to try and greenwash their apocalyptic brand,” says Darren Cullen, a London-based artist who designed another of the posters.

Darren Cullen's satirical poster at a bus stop.
Darren Cullen's satirical poster at a bus stop. Brandalism

“But this deceitful strategy is falling flat, as more and more people realise how at odds this marketing is with Shell's expansion of oil and gas drilling in the real world. Shareholders at Shell's AGM need to see past the greenwash and vote for our future.”

A spokesperson for Shell said: “We respect people’s right to express their point of view and welcome any constructive engagement on our strategy and the energy transition.

"However, these protest ads are misleading, not constructive and completely mischaracterise the nature of our partnership with British Cycling.

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“Shell UK continues to support British Cycling and the Great Britain Cycling Team’s cyclists and para-cyclists through the sharing of technology and innovation, widening access to cycling, and accelerating decarbonisation efforts.”

Shell says a "key pillar" of its partnership with British Cycling is to "accelerate" its journey to net zero and encourage the uptake of low and zero-carbon forms of transport like cycling and electric vehicles.

The company also highlighted its target to achieve net-zero by 2050 across all operations and energy products.

"We believe this target supports the more ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels," a spokesperson said.

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