Virtue Signaling in the Petrochemicals Industry

Virtue Signaling: noun

Definition: the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue.

It seems odd that large chemical and petroleum companies spend big bucks on 30 second TV ads. The ExxonMobil “To-Do List” advertisement, like all of these ads, does not ask you to buy or consider any particular product. BASF runs similar ads on television and I don’t think that you can buy a BASF branded product at the store (I used to buy their blank audio cassettes back in the day to make mix tapes though).

In other news, the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus is closing after more than 100 years in operation. Maybe they needed to run some ads.

We all know that the purpose of these generic ads is public relations. The ads are often a response to criticisms from (often) left wing groups that are running their own PR campaigns against the company or even a particular industry.

ExxonMobil is often portrayed as the epitome of “big oil” and thus faces a lot of criticism from environmental groups. The Koch Brothers have been portrayed as super-villains by a number of left wing groups and even Senator Harry Reid on the Senate floor. In response, Koch Industries has begun running PR ads on television.

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been criticized by groups like PETA for many years for keeping wild animals in captivity. When companies go out of business, especially old established companies, there are always a number of causes and determining the exact cause is likely impossible for anyone but insiders that have access to the financial data, but the PR campaigns run against them likely had some impact.

The problem with many of these ads is that they are so sappy and the virtue signaling is so transparent that I’m not sure how effective they are. I often find myself laughing at the ethnic diversity in these ads. They are so careful to include very good-looking people of all different ethnicities.  They must use a checklist when casting them. To see ExxonMobil talking about their commitment to energy efficiency is a little ridiculous as well. Please, please use less of our products!

If I were part of a group that was running a PR campaign against ExxonMobil and I saw the “To-Do List” ad above, I’d smell blood in the water. It would mean that I was having an effect and that I need to redouble my efforts.

I sometimes wish these companies would take a different approach. Hey, we’re ExxonMobil, we work hard to find new sources of oil and natural gas. Our products make your lifestyle possible. Like your car? Like your electricity? Like the heat in your house? You can thank us. Hey, you pimply faced teenagers on your computers writing nasty comments on Facebook, your computer and the internet are powered by us.

It would be refreshing to see an ad like this just once.

I really doubt that the virtue signaling ads change anyone’s mind who has decided that “big oil” is the root of all evil. I suppose the real purpose is to humanize these giant multi-national companies to prevent people from buying into the constant criticisms so they aren’t the next Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus.


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