Shell, the global oil company, is facing backlash from climate activists due to its collaboration with popular influencers in the battle royale video game Fortnite. This collaboration involved encouraging Fortnite’s predominantly young user base to participate in a virtual road trip fueled by gasoline, raising concerns from environmental advocates.
Shell partnered with well-known Fortnite streamers and influencers to promote its V-Power NiTRO+ gasoline. The nonprofit watchdog organization Media Matters for America recently raised alarm bells about Shell’s use of Twitch, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube to target a younger audience associated with Fortnite.
The marketing campaign was named the “Shell Ultimate Road Trips,” where players could engage in a new map created by influencers chosen by Shell. Players were tasked with refueling in-game vehicles with gasoline, racing across the map, taking screenshots, and sharing them on social media using the hashtag #Shellroadtrips.
Media Matters identified at least six Twitch streamers with a combined total of 5.5 million followers in the Fortnite campaign. According to the nonprofit, these streamers were attracting one million views daily during their involvement. Additionally, three of these streamers cross-promoted the campaign on Instagram and TikTok.
Furthermore, Media Matters claimed that three influencers not associated with Twitch streaming created Shell-sponsored content related to Shell Ultimate Road Trips, which they posted on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. Collectively, these three influencers had an audience of 1.5 million followers on Instagram, 8.5 million on TikTok, and 11.6 million YouTube subscribers.
This campaign has come when Shell is attempting to rebrand itself from a traditional oil company to a climate-conscious entity with sporadic attempts at social justice initiatives. However, these efforts have often been met with skepticism, and even the company’s CEO appears to be losing interest in these greenwashing efforts.
Previously, Shell celebrated International Women’s Day by changing the branding on just one gas pump in the United States as part of the “She Will” campaign, which some critics playfully interpreted as “She’ll destroy the Earth just as much as he will.”
Shell also ventured into the e-scooter market with its SR-5S model in 2021, a move that faced scrutiny from a UK watchdog for being “likely to mislead” with its advertising.
Despite these PR efforts, Shell’s core business remains oil drilling. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to slow down its eco-conscious image and focus more on oil production to appease investors. Shell’s CEO, Wael Sawan, cited the world’s increasing need for oil, partly due to global events such as the conflict in Ukraine, as the motivation behind this shift, claiming that reducing oil production would be “dangerous and irresponsible.”
The collaboration between Shell and Fortnite raises concerns about socially priming a predominantly youthful user base to be enthusiastic about purchasing gasoline for vehicles they don’t yet own.
Some view it as a questionable strategy, while others see it as an attempt to stay relevant and appeal to a younger demographic. However, the partnership has sparked a passionate debate about the role of energy companies in popular culture and the messaging they convey to impressionable audiences.