‘Exxon Hates Your Children’ Ad Part Of Campaign To Strip The ‘Social License’ Of Oil Companies

You might have seen the ad below, called “Exxon Hates Your Children,” circulated this week.

“We all know the climate crisis will rip [your children’s] world apart, but we don’t care, because it’ll make us rich,” says the fake Exxon executive.

Two groups, Oil Change International and The Other 98%, rolled out the campaign this week and are trying to raise money in order to put the ad on television. It’s gotten a lot of attention in the last two days, including from Exxon, which called the ad “offensive.” So far, the campaign has raised more than $10,000.

The ad has two objectives. One is to draw attention to tax subsidies that go to profitable oil companies and try to influence the current fiscal debate. The other, which is an evolving part of a newish campaign, is to marginalize fossil fuel companies and strip their “social license.” Activists concerned about the environment have always demonized coal, oil, and gas companies in varying ways. But this is something slightly different. As the science gets more frightening and fossil fuel companies continue to ramp up their extraction of carbon fuels, climate groups are attempting to back these companies into a corner in new ways.

It’s an extension of the “Do The Math” campaign, which seeks to target the bottom line of fossil fuel companies by encouraging institutional investors to pull their money out of the sector. “These companies have lost their social license” by exacerbating the climate crisis, said campaign leader Bill McKibben. “This is a rogue industry.”

Expect more of this no-holds-barred communications strategy from environmental groups:


24 Responses to ‘Exxon Hates Your Children’ Ad Part Of Campaign To Strip The ‘Social License’ Of Oil Companies

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    It’s nice to see people becoming more aggressive. Let’s target the coal, gas, logging, and livestock industries, too. As with oil, there are substitutes for all of these materials.

    Coal production in particular is a criminal enterprise, due to release of deadly toxins in addition to carbon dioxide. Backing off from penalties by mentioning something like “electoral college math” or “Congressional district” is kind of hideous.

  2. Felix Kramer says:

    Seen in context of’s “Do The Math” campaign and the growing movement to position fossil fuels companies as global pariahs, starting with a divestment campaign — so well reported at — this is encouraging.
    My main quibble is that the add focuses on government subsidies. That may not be the most important aspect of the overwhelming impact of this industry (by private companies and nationalized entities globally). Even without these handouts they will continue to buy legislators and laws and shape public awareness, circumscribing what’s seen as possible and realistic to change.
    Maybe the anger expressed here can contribute to a campaign to take away their power to destroy the world.

  3. Lisa Jaccoma says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m an advertising and communications professional and while I think it’s about time that the silent majority starting countering the onslaught of marketing from the coal/gas/oil industrie with a rebuttal of some kind – we can do better. From one professionals’ perspective, the approach in this spot is really going the wrong way.
    First, kudos to the team who produced, and who stepped out to do this and took the risk. I am trying to help here. Second, I share the rage the spot embodies. But it’s not enough to be mad – or right. Third, the role of advertising and communications is to engage – to inform – to inspire – to course correct – and ultimately to convert. I don’t care what you are selling – or to whom. This is how it’s done. It is not ever the role of advertising to simply preach to the choir. Or skull bang. It’s not productive. It will make you feel better – but you will not win – not this way. We have a whole spectacular echo chamber designed to speak to ourselves. You need to et out of the bubble. You need converts. You need to bring them to your side. This ad alienates. it begins with hyperbole that devalues the facts – which are and can continue to be brutal enough on their own. Which brings up the next point – stick to the truth. Especially when you’re pissed off. In these industries the truth is brutal enough that you don’t need to say “they hate your children”. It’s implied. Just use the clips of their statements (“climate change is happening – just move your agriculture, this is an engineering problem”), shots of the headlines (enron to exploding coal mines, toxic dumping, exploding oil rigs, and facts about how they’re “takers” – welfare queens, “kept” industries. They say coal is clean – show the mines, mountaintop removal, lungs, stacks. Then finish with the questions that will most liekly resonate? Why are these folks on the dole? Why are we always cleaning up after them? Does energy need to be this deadly? Why aren’t they good citizens? They’re trying to buy and sell our democracy after all – don’t you want a say in this? And finally, “can we afford the fossil fuel industry when we have alternatives?”

    The point is that the truth is so ugly – you do not need to hyperventilate. In fact the quieter you are in tone, as the outrages on screen mount – the more the spots create emotional tension. It’s just that no one has ever assembled the outrages into a campaign in a dedicated way that challenges the status quo. This spot reinforces the “hair on fire” stereotype of the “environmental hipster” without moving the peanut. We can’t afford this any longer. Damn them with their own, words, behaviours, facts. I promise it will be bad enough.
    p.s. – no one in advertising gets it right the first time. Keep at it. Best regards.

  4. Aaron Lewis says:

    Cutting back on fossil fuel, is like open heart surgery on the economy. It is going to hurt like hell. It is going to be very expensive. It is going to be unpleasant in every way. However, it is the only way to save the world.

    No, it is not going back to the stone age. Much of what we still consider great art was done before extensive use of fossil fuel. In some ways, the time from Homer to Shakespeare was more civilized.

  5. Frost says:

    Instead of subsidizing these offensive ways to generate power and move vehicles, tax it to the hilt and beyond. For cars, of course, you also have to slowly ramp up the taxation and put the money into building electricity-powered transportation infrastructure until you can ramp up the gasoline taxes to incredibly punitive levels. People won’t wean themselves off this, they’ll have to be forcibly weaned by making it insupportable to pollute. The same goes for coal and oil – tax them literally to death while using the money to build clean infrastructure. It’s not difficult… just as long as the bought and paid for politicians would actually work for the people and not their corporate owners.

  6. EDpeak says:

    Being more aggressive and direct with the public is a GOOD thing.

    I agree with Felix that those subsidies are in a way the least (or one of the lesser) problems. Yes, it’s good to remind the public in adverts that on top of everything else, ExxonMobil gets subsidies.

    But look, Exxon’s revenues for 2011 were 486.429 billion so it is less tahn 1% of their revenues that this is. One almost wonders why they dont’ take the (less than 1%) one-time hit to revenues and keep growing their gigantic revenues and profits on the planet…just as a tactical move to avoid having the spotlight on them? I reasons might be, i) not enough spotlight right now or ii)they dont’ want to set a precedent for it being “ok” for Congress to take away any googie – after all if they took away this (relatively small, for Exxon) goodie, they might take away other bigger goodies.

    The larger goodies run into the hundreds of billions or more – the cost externalized onto the backs of society, makes that $10 billion look like pennies by comparison.

    I also encourage CP to recognize that the fossil fuel industry is at best “tied for first place” and arguably second place, as far as who the enemies of progress are.

    Sometimes (but not often enough) mentioned here are the flat-earth free-marketeers – not just rich “think tanks” like Heritage, but the Chamber of Commerce and Corporate America in general. Yes, a less damaged environment would actually Help the profits of most companies, why don’t they just join with the public to put the squeeze on the fossil industries? Obviously the latter are hugely powerful compared to even other parts of corporate America but that is not all.

    Just look at the example of Single Payer – a public non-profit health insurance would Save money for and help increase the profits of most corporations, yet it is not just the for-profit health biz that opposes this reform; they are terrified of any “dangerous example” of the logic of Markets Uber Ales being questioned.

    This is happening in the case of pollution too: even though most corporations would benefit, it’s a dangerous precedent to question The Holy Godhead of The Market – after all it opens the door to “taking” away their profits in other cases where companies externalize costs onto society..Those forces are the #1 enemy of progress. The fossil fuel industry (or the for-profit health insurance and drug companies, respectively) are enemy #2. Hugely powerful too, but not the only or even #1 strongest force aligned against progress.

  7. Dear ED,

    While I believe your analysis is correct, I still think it makes sense to go after specific targets and nail them, then go after the the next target or set of targets. Global capitalism is a bit of a stretch as an “enemy” that we can get most people to take action against. Whereas these days, after Hurricane Sandy, the ridiculous posturing of the Congressional Republicans about global warming and so on, fossil-fuel companies are a relatively easy mark.

    Winning battles is important if you ultimately want to win a war. Even if the subsidies don’t mean much to the bottom line of the oil companies, their control of Congress means a lot to them. If the people can wrest some of that away, we will be empowered and the oil companies frightened, as well as publicly chastised.

    Ultimately, all kinds of battles will have to be won to win the war of saving the planet. But we need to pick our battles and win them, not scatter our forces.

  8. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Well it’s a good start and as per comments above, can be taken a lot further, ME

  9. I think the ad has been blocked, possibly by hackers working for Exxon attacking the group’s server. I can’t get it to run here, on Huffington Post, You Tube or the group’s own web site. My computer’s working fine, so I wonder…

  10. I hear what you are saying, but I think it all depends on who the ad is targeting and what they are trying to do with it.

    I, for one, am offended by most ads and consider nearly all of them over-hyped if not down right lying. Very few ads engage me. That is because I’m clearly not their target audience.

    Secondly, many ads these days go intentionally “over the top” in a deadpan way to stand out.

    I don’t think the target audience for this ad is “undecided” folks. I think it is people already worried about climate threats and is trying to move these folks into the column of “oil companies are violating their social license to operate.” But I may be wrong.

    Bottom line is that addressing target audience and goal is important in deciding if an ad is effective or not.

  11. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Lisa, different media have different characteristics and advertizing requires different strategies for each to be effective. The strategy you outline works well on paper and radio but not on TV. I don’t know how this ad was put out but if it was for TV, it would work well. Analyses over the years have shown that the most successful TV ads contain little or, preferably, no information. They derive their impact purely from emotional reaction, ME

  12. Michaelc says:

    Nicely done, although it will never be allowed to air on network TV. That is a waste of time and money. It would be far better to just try to get people to post it to their facebook pages and send it to every one they know.

    Take the money and have a contest for creating a series of commercials with the same ideas.

  13. Sorry, false alarm. I restarted my computer and got the ad. Glad I did, too. We need a lot more of this aggressive stuff — as well as keeping up with the well reasoned arguments — when dealing with the fossil-fuel industries and their well funded denier campaigns.

  14. Agreed. It might appear in the NY Times or elsewhere as a half-page ad. But the Web is the way to go. I could see this thing having several million Youtube hits.

  15. EDpeak says:

    Philip – I was being a bit more specific than “global capitalism” to clarify: in addition to working to eliminate the legal bribes/”campaign contributions” (which others have mentioned often on CP) I add these two: right-wing think tanks, who refer to, quote, “free market” (read: unlimited corporate power and profits over all other values, and over people’s democratic rights) and thirdly a public education campaign on this issue.

    I’m sorry to say that we will LOSE the war if we only get a few subsidies eliminated while allowing flat earth “Free market” fundamentalism to continue – just look at the fight for public nonprofit universal health insurance – it was in high gear since 1992 at least (so earlier than climate activism being in high gear) and has suffered from this same common blocking since any regulation of Unlimited Corporate Tyranny (this UCT, which they call ‘freedom’ and “free markets”) is massively assaulted and blocked.

  16. John McCormick says:

    Lisa, thanks for that helpful comment. I’d like to talk with you about an effort to advance the smart grid discussion. I am reading your other comments on GreenBiz.

    Please contact me at:

    Thank you.

    John McCormick

  17. Earthhammer Vii says:

    “Global Capitalism” may be considered a misnomer for the subject of super corporations. Perhaps a more defining title would be “Economic Oligarchy”, which attempts to remove competition at all levels. Where as capitalism allows for all competition, global or otherwise.

  18. Earthhammer Vii says:

    I believe it’s correct to have ads such as these to balance out the adverts touting that corperations offer thier services to benefit the consumer. The well informed consumer knows better, but the majority of consumers are not well informed and prefer an existance of simplicity. This , of course, makes them vulnerable to glitzy and misleading advertisement. Until the majoirty (middle class) consumers take upon themselves the responsibility to become more informed, the status quo will remain a such. However, with the introduction of the internet, the coporate media has much less influence and so the staus quo is changing. Slowly but surely, the social medium is swinging to a more informed middle class.
    A growing class of concerned people hope it’s not too late! Only time and effort will tell.

  19. Earthhammer Vii says:

    Maybe this advert doesn’t seem well presented to you, but the target audiance is the middle class consumer. The so-called midde class is where the true power is, if only it could be mobilized through being well informed and truly responsible. Many mid class consumers prefer thier lives to be simplistic and do not want to get involved in social economic change. However, there seems to be a trend towards becoming more active socially. Economic iconoclastism may be the result. This is made possible through the movement of ideas by way of the internet. I’m sure corporate media and corporations are doing thier best to intercede in or manipulate the situation, for their influence is begining to decline. Why do I say corporate media? Because non-media corporations and corporate media are intrinsically interdependent on the support of each other for the control of consumers, wealth, and power. So, it’s reasonable to say media is just as responsible for the economic, social, and enviromental failures of the world as a whole as are the corporations that abuse our resouces.

  20. Dave Yuhas says:

    Too little, too late I fear.

  21. Mark E says:

    Taken in a vacuum, I agree fossil fuel subsidies are small potatoes. However, that is the reductionist sort of thinking that got us into this mess. Systems-based thinking recognizes that going after subsidies has a long list of additional benefits, which have nothing to do with chopping off that little bit of cash on the company’s ledgers.

    Personally I can not think of a better recruitment issue, short of catastrophes and mayhem. Somehow we need to open the psychological door in the public’s mind, so they can take the next step, and myriad subsequent steps, all of which are required before we can expect true BAU believers to make the full conversion to advocating steady state economics. If not organizing around subsidies, where would YOU suggest we start?

  22. EDpeak says:

    It is systems analysis that shows us that if we keep the same system (exponential economic growth forever based economy, investor driven short term profit based economics, corporate run planet Earth, etc) the problem will only get worse. We’re treating the symptoms not the disease.

    As far as the quesetion about “if not organizing around subsidies…?” I was not suggesting this be skipped, I was not saying anywhere that we shouldn’t treat symptoms, or that we shouldn’t include this campaign. In fact I said it’s “good to remind the public” about these subsidies. But we have to act on multiple fronts. Short of giving you are 10 point or 20 point entire campaign outline, I’m not sure how much more specific you expect – the above is a campaign to change both laws and to change the public mind, about subsidies; I was being very specific: add on additional campaigns changing both the laws and public mind on the systemic (systems thinking!) problem of the sick economic system – for starters, progressivse including CP can stop using the phrase free market without ironic quotes; (sadly we perpetuate the idea when we refer seriously to corporate tyranny over all human rights as anything with the word “free” in it!) and then campaigns to educate about our growth-based economy, on the fact that right-wingers should be with us if they are against “freeloaders” since corporations are freeloading but externalizing costs on society, and enact laws from smaller scale to eventually larger scale that embody alternative economics, ownership, control, by communities, by workers, by neighborhoods, with i)democratic control, and ii)The Commons and iii)human rights over the rights of artificially created legal entities (corporations) as some of the principles behind such legal changes. It’s not like we have the time luxury to wait another 10 years and then another 10 years after that for little steps like less subsidies before we tackle and change (nor reform but overhaul) our economic system – waiting until 2032 before we even start to stake small steps to address that Systemic aspect, is suicidal. Corporations are the dominant players on planet earth today – not nation-states. See how many times the word “corporate” even appears in the comments or article here. Not encouraging. Let’s work together to change that! econdemocracy(gm)

  23. John McCormick says:

    Earthhammer, I hear you and believe you might greatly benefit from some information about State of Maryland’s Benefits Corporation at MD Statute 97. In Maryland a Benefit Corporation can also be judged on its other bottom lines; people and planet

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  24. Jean Netherton says:

    There is more we need to do. Please sign and share our petition.
    The petition reads:
    It is not enough that we the people shoulder the burden of reducing the carbon out put by buying more efficient cars, by buying solar panels, by buying mass transit tickets, or through the purchase of more efficient homes. These are all good things and good for business and I applaud these efforts – but it is not enough.
    Shut down the tar sands project in Utah before it begins. Reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Work to shut down the blight that is Canadian tar sands. Push the carbon tax and more.
    Because none of those other things we re-elected you for will mean anything if we can’t drink the water or breathe the air.