In the film â??The Corporationâ??, Joel Bakan eloquently and effectively made the case for the corporation as psychopath. In a thinly disguised attempt to jump on their bandwagon, I’d like to put forward a case for the brand suffering from â??Dissociative Identity Disorderâ??, (what used to be called multiple personality disorder).
To demonstrate the point, and make the case as to why the dissociative identity brands days are numbered, I’d like to highlight the case of Shell and its critical split personality, (though to say Shell are the only petroleum company, or indeed the only brand with this disorder would be to grossly underestimate the spread of the phenomena).
Shell are on a â??spin offensiveâ??, with high profile advertising and media campaigns highlighting their ‘eco’ credentials. They are also smart enough to know that the public is cynical to advertising alone, and have backed these campaigns with various forays into sustainable energy production, environmental education (sponsoring ‘eco schools’ here in Scotland) and other projects which reinforce their stated position, which is that while they are of course a petrol company first and foremost, they are doing everything in their power to produce cleaner and more efficient sources of energy. (These things are, of course, always relative and John Thakara rightly points out that many car producers consider replacing the chrome wing mirrors on their SUV’s with carbon fibre ones as a move towards ‘sustainable transport’).
Cut to Rossport, County Mayo, in the West of Ireland and we see the other Shell â??personalityâ?? at work. An overview of the case to date is 400 acres of public forestry land sold by the Irish Government to Shell and Statoil to build a refinery, a compulsory purchase order granted to Shell to buy and lay pipes on the land of residents of Rossport (the first time a compulsory purchase order has been granted to a private company), work commencing on a pipe taking unrefined atlantic gas onland to the refinery at full pressure (the first time this has been undertaken – normally it is pumped onshore at around 1/10th of this pressure), five local residents indefinetely interned in jail for refusing access to Shell engineers, (released after 94 days when the publicity generated turned this from an isolated local campaign into a national one and Shell realises it is creating it’s own negative publicity), plus the usual side effects of polluted local water supplies, damage to infrastructure, and displacement.
This is rapidly becoming Shell’s biggest PR problem since the execution of â??Ken Saro Wiwaâ?? and nine other environmental protesters in Nigeria in 1995, and raises serious questions about whether the outcome for the Rossport 5 might have been the same had they not been fortunate to live in a western democracy with open media and a (reasonably) accountable government.
The brands which can seemingly operate with one set of values in one area, and a completely contrary set of values in another must surely be on the demise. The way technology and media now connects information in new ways and can inform and mobilise society, (‘consumers’ as Shell might call them), must make this policy of running a multiple personality company almost completely unsustainable in the long view. I am all in favour of companies varying their tone of voice and means of creating communication, just as it is important for companies to be able to make the most of the visionaries within their organisations who can see ‘other ways of doing things’. However when those ‘other ways’ are so diametrically opposed, the company is just a machine doing whatever is pragmatic to please the shareholders, rather than a company any consumer would either believe in, or wish to engage with. Doing a bit of ‘bad’ and a bit of ‘good’ doesn’t make an ‘o.k.’ company – it makes a bad company with a cynical approach to doing good.
Shell must have seen the direct impact that their imprisoning of the Rossport 5 had at the pumps in Ireland. Hopefully the freedom and ease with which information can now be transfered, and the way authorship can extend beyond the big media corporations, will mean an end to these contrary brands.
(Apologies to any medical types who may consider my analogy crude. It is intended to demonstrate a point rather than reflect on the disorder itself).