“Come with me and get some snacks at our Shell gas station,” says the US influencer with the username “The Petrol Princess” in a video on the online service Tiktok. She usually poses for her 2.7 million subscribers in various wigs, sometimes with black curls, sometimes with pink streaks. In between, she does advertising for the British oil company Shell.

Like “The Petrol Princess”, numerous influencers on platforms such as Tiktok, Instagram and Twitch promote the large fossil fuel companies in addition to their usual content. BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and Total Energies benefit from their reach.

“The fossil fuel industry wants to build social capital among young people,” says Melissa Aronczyk, professor of communication and information at Rutgers University. Because of the climate crisis, the oil companies have a bad image among many young people. “They not only consider them outdated, but also dangerous,” explains Aronczyk.

According to a count by the climate news site “DeSmog,” more than 100 influencers have worked with major oil companies since 2017. They include video game streamers, soccer fans and a Filipino grandmother popular for comedy videos about her family.

The AFP news agency found promotional videos from influencers from India, Mexico, South Africa and the USA. In it, among other things, a wedding planner and a pregnant mother advertise a loyalty program at gas stations run by the oil company ExxonMobil. “Like many companies, ExxonMobil works with influencers to educate consumers about the benefits of our loyalty program,” explains company spokeswoman Lauren Knight when asked.

A spokeswoman for competitor Shell says the company advertises its low-CO2 products in online services. However, Shell did not provide any information about advertising contracts with fossil fuel influencers. BP, Chevron and Total Energies did not respond to AFP requests for comment.

According to the think tank “InfluenceMap”, companies also spent the equivalent of a good nine million euros on advertising on Facebook in 2020. However, the full extent of their advertising strategies is difficult to estimate because not all advertisements are clearly labeled.

For some influencers, the advertising deals with the oil giants could backfire. They have to be prepared for their reputation to suffer and fans to react with disappointment, says Duncan Meisel, director of the “Clean Creatives” campaign.

Several video game streamers have already felt this after they presented a Shell-sponsored feature in the online game Fortnite. “I understand that you have to make money, but advertising for a fossil energy company in 2023 is not a solution,” wrote one subscriber under a video by influencer Chica on Instagram. “I grew up watching your videos and watching you sell yourself to one of the most immoral and inhumane companies in existence,” another influencer’s post read.

“Fossil energy companies are the biggest polluters in the world, they are deeply loathed by young people,” says Duncan Meisel. “For anyone watching these videos, the ‘unfollow’ button won’t be far away.”

Sources:  Tiktok, AFP