As young voters increasingly support phasing out fossil fuels, oil giant Shell is aiming to reach this demographic — not by cutting its oil and gas development, but via video game marketing. The company is working with Fortnite creators and sponsoring popular gamers to promote its premium gas on the streaming platform Twitch, as well as on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube.
The campaign comes as 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, jeopardizing the future of its target audience. In a 2021 survey of young people between 16-25 years old from 10 countries, 75% said the future is frightening because of climate change.
Meanwhile, the company announced in June that it is planning to expand its natural gas business. According to Bloomberg, its business plan “puts oil and gas front and center while giving low-carbon efforts a smaller supporting role,” despite the International Energy Agency’s recent warning that, “no new long-lead-time upstream oil and gas projects are needed” for a global pathway to net zero emissions by 2050.
The campaign, dubbed “Shell Ultimate Road Trips,” encourages Fortnite players to use a new map made by six different Fortnite creators who were “invited” by Shell to participate in the project. To promote the map, Shell sponsored popular gamers to test it out. The campaign is meant to promote the company’s “new and improved” premium gasoline. In the game, players first fill up at a Shell gas station and are encouraged to take screenshots of the game and post them on social media using the hashtag #Shellroadtrips. The campaign also includes sweepstakes to win Shell e-gift cards or a “dream road trip.”
- Media Matters identified at least six streamers with a combined Twitch following of over 5.5 million who promoted Shell’s campaign and product during sponsored streams that garnered over 1 million views.
- Three of these influencers promoted the sponsored Twitch streams on other social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok.
- Combined, these Twitch streamers have nearly 8 million TikTok followers and 1.2 million Instagram followers.
- Outside of Twitch, Media Matters also identified at least three other content creators who promoted the campaign in several videos sponsored by Shell across their YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok channels.
- These influencers have a combined 1.5 million Instagram followers, 8.5 million TikTok followers and 11.6 million YouTube subscribers.
The participants Media Matters identified who held sponsored Twitch streams were Punisher, NateHill, Chica, brookeab, Astrobounder, and Grady_Rains. In August, each participant held a sponsored stream where they tested out the map. Some also promoted Shell’s new gasoline product, in addition to directing other players to take screenshots of the game and post them on social media using the hashtag #Shellroadtrips.
By working with popular streamers, Shell was able to gain access to their audiences outside of Twitch as well. Creators Chica, brookeab, and Grady Rains all used TikTok and Instagram to encourage their followers to join the stream or promoted the stream after the fact. Combined, they have nearly 8 million TikTok followers and 1.2 million Instagram followers.
Shell also appears to have tapped some content creators to simply post sponsored content on social media rather than participate in longer streams. Gamers Brianna Arsement, chillrogg and TaySon promoted the map and sweepstakes to their combined 1.5 million Instagram followers, 8.5 million TikTok followers, and 11.6 million YouTube subscribers.
In part, the Ultimate Road Trips campaign reflects Shell’s continued efforts over the last few years to reach a younger audience using TikTok and Instagram.
An August DeSmog investigation described a Shell-sponsored video from one popular feel-good account as “part of a concerted push from oil and gas supermajors to improve their image among younger generations. Edelman, one of Shell’s principal PR agencies, said in relation to a 2017 campaign that the oil and gas giant set the task of ‘giving millennials a reason to connect emotionally with Shell’s commitment to a sustainable future.’” According to Twitch, in 2022, 70% of its users were between the ages of 18-34.
Shell has been advertising on Twitch since at least 2021, and also partnered with Riot Games for the European League of Legends Championship in 2019. In the past, Shell has also worked with beauty, wellness, and travel influencers, as well as celebrities, to create sponsored posts on Instagram. In recent years, as electrification efforts began to gain steam, the American Gas Association also asked some influencers to flaunt their gas stoves with the goal of targeting “hispanic millennials,” “design enthusiasts,” “promising families,” and “young city solos.”
In addition to, or instead of, influencer marketing, some oil companies are now aiming to cater more directly to their audience's interests rather than just promoting their products. For example, according to Earther, ad agency Carmichael Lynch wrote of a 2021 Conoco campaign that “changed the rules of social engagement by understanding the audience’s perceptions of brands. Instead of forcing advertising-like objects on them, we built content around their interests.”
Similarly, Shell’s collaboration with Fortnite creators allows video game fans to engage with the brand virtually without purchasing its products. But Shell won’t be able to shirk accountability so easily. On September 16 California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced he was suing Shell along with four other oil companies and the American Petroleum Institute on behalf of the people of California for “allegedly engaging in a decades-long campaign of deception and creating statewide climate change-related harms in California.”