The gross-out trailer for the Channel 4 documentary Joe Lycett vs the Oil Giant has found a young audience on social media after being rejected by the advertising regulator. The parody ad mocking energy giant Shell’s environmental claims uses comedy to provoke strong opinions and speak truth to power.
Joe Lycett vs the Oil Giant is a documentary investigation of Shell’s sustainability claims which argues that the energy giant is using greenwashing in its advertising and environmental promises to distract from its wider business model. According to Lycett, a comedian and consumer champion, while Shell ads feature ”lots of pictures of forests and windmills,” only $900 million of its $116 billion annual investment goes to renewable energy. An ad for the show, made by Rumpus Media and distributed by Channel 4, borrows the language and visuals of Shell’s own adverts and features Lycett impersonating the company's CEO and throwing up fake faeces after making spurious climate action claims. After it was banned by the advertising regulator, the ad was posted online.
In the programme, after having the advert rejected by the TV watchdog for denigrating Shell, Lycett says that “nobody watches TV any more apart from you guys.” Britons aged 16-24 only spend a little over an hour watching broadcast content per day, compared to an average of over three hours among all adults. However, across 2020, Channel 4 saw record growth in under-35 linear viewing and streaming and has committed to using social media to reach younger audiences. "To ensure that Channel 4 remains a relevant and vibrant voice in a digital world, we know we must now bring all the passion, originality, and disruptive flair that we brought to the world of terrestrial TV 38 years ago to the world of streaming and social media,” says Ian Katz, director of programmes. In this context, documenting a banned TV advert on social media will likely have enhanced both the programme and Channel 4’s outsider branding.