ventriloquism;public discourse;marketing;parody;digital media;
Media, Culture, and Society
© 2018. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/
In the fall of 2010, Chevron released an ad campaign designed to respond to consumer worries about the conduct of oil companies. Each ad depicted “customers” voicing rather nonspecific concerns about oil companies, answered by the “We Agree” slogan and information about something positive the company is doing in particular communities. Just before the campaign’s official roll-out, the anti-corporate activist group known as the Yes Men produced a series of sophisticated parody ads that spoke in more detail about the damage the company has done in specific countries. Designed to be mistaken for the real, the dummy campaign was distributed with a fake press release purporting to be from Chevron. It was indeed picked up by the press, followed by a cascade of confused articles quoting alternately from the company’s real retraction and a subsequent fake retraction. The Yes Men succeeded in temporarily “throwing their voice” into the body of the Chevron corporation, using a savvy form of ventriloquism as a means of directing the public conversation. Although it is normally the powerful (like large corporations) who are heard in public life, often speaking both for themselves and others, the tactic of ventriloquism temporarily reverses that flow. The case study provides a compelling example of a method of capitalizing on the democratic potential of new media, wielding parody and play as a weapon of the crowd.