Company faces backlash for targeting young people through popular video game: ‘Another desperate move’

Dirty energy companies like Shell are having a tougher time garnering positive press than they used to, as the oil they produce is increasingly understood to be one of the main causes of air pollution, the overheating of our planet, and extreme weather events. Now, Shell is under fire for paying Fortnite streamers and influencers to promote its product to children.

What is happening?

According to Media Matters for America, Shell has been targeting young video gamers with a campaign called “Shell Ultimate Road Trips,” which encourages them to fill up their virtual vehicles at interactive Shell gas stations and post screenshots using the #Shellroadtrip hashtag.

Shell paid Twitch, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube to promote the campaign — combined, the accounts that were contracted have tens of millions of followers.

Why is this concerning?

Besides the fact that “Shell Ultimate Road Trips” sounds like an embodiment of the “How Do You Do, Fellow Kids” meme, Shell’s attempts to convince impressionable young people that its planet-harming products are fun and cool are cause for real concern.

“Regulators in the U.S. and Europe have increasingly cracked down on the fossil fuel industry’s tactic of greenwashing or misrepresenting their products as clean or sustainable. This new campaign appears to launder its climate destabilizing product through popular gamers and social media influencers to its target demographic: those most concerned about the climate crisis,” said Allison Fisher, director of Media Matters’ climate and energy program.

“Trade industry groups and energy companies have sought to use influencer marketing to humanize their products, even though the impacts of these products are driving climate change [and] jeopardizing the future of its target audience,” Media Matters analyst Ilana Berger said.

“This is another desperate move by a dying company,” said Aru Shiney-Ajay, executive director of advocacy group Sunrise Movement. “Gen Z knows the truth about the fossil fuel industry, and companies like Shell know it. This is just the latest attempt to buy their way to survival.”

What is being done about it?

Fortunately, the younger generations are the least likely to be swayed by Shell’s pro-gasoline propaganda, as teenagers disproportionately understand that dirty energy represents an existential threat to our planet.

According to a 2021 survey, 75% of people aged 16 to 25 said that the future is “frightening because of climate change.” And many young voters are calling for dirty energy to be phased out.

And Shell is no longer being allowed to spread its misinformation at will — the California attorney general recently announced that he is suing Shell and four other oil companies for “allegedly engaging in a decades-long campaign of deception and creating statewide climate change-related harms in California.”

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