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Greenwashing Environmental Campaigns Sustainability

Why a fake agency is pitching for Saudi Aramco’s account

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By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

November 23, 2023 | 6 min read

Campaigners have launched a spoof agency named Atmospheric following the news that McCann is poised to repitch for Saudi Aramco - the world’s largest oil and gas company.

Spoof agency poster for Atmospheric

1 in 3 people believe ad agencies should not work with fossil fuel clients

Created by the climate collective Glimpse alongside satirist and musician Oli Frost and the climate communications lab, Utopia Bureau, Atmospheric announced itself with a billboard ad in central London that states: “The climate is changing. Business shouldn’t have to.”

Atmospheric boasts its own website, LinkedIn page and a CEO named Jamie Kolkot. Its mission statement says it gives clients “the social license they need to Keep the Fire Burning™.”

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The end of the website reveals that while the agency isn’t “real,” its creators believe its intentions are not so far from those of real agencies. Atmospheric is a response by the creators to the news that McCann is poised to repitch for Saudi Aramco - the world’s largest oil and gas company.

A member of the Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG) and part of the global communications industry’s four major holding companies, McCann currently holds contracts with Aramco despite the oil firm’s controversial environmental record, including accusations of pollution and greenwashing.

These contracts are due to expire early next year, and reports by the investigative platform DeSmog suggests McCann is actively working to repitch for the account.

Agencies are increasingly on the radar of climate activists following high profile pitches for fossil fuel accounts, such as Shell's recent appointment of Havas Media.

“This website is completely ridiculous. But it’s nowhere near as absurd as pitching for the world’s most polluting companies while pretending to have a meaningful policy on climate change. Agencies must decide which is more important to them: their reputation or fossil fuel clients. They can’t have both,” said Glimpse’s founder James Turner.

Atmospheric says it intends to pitch for the Aramco business alongside agencies like McCann, which it mocks for not being more transparent about its willingness to work with polluters. It has shared its early ideas in a pitch deck on the agency site and is inviting creative contributions from the public.

The latter initiative follows YouGov research commissioned by Glimpse, which reveals a disconnect between public awareness and the environmental impact of fossil fuel companies. Despite Aramco’s significant contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, its public profile remains relatively obscure; only 22% of UK adults are aware of Aramco. Awareness was greater for BP (91%), ExxonMobil (51%), and Chevron (42%).

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Out of the over 2,000 people surveyed, 1 in 3 (37%) believe advertising agencies should not make ads for fossil fuel companies. This rises to 2 in 3 (70%) when the same question is posed for tobacco companies.

“Very soon, fossil fuel companies will be less socially acceptable as clients than arms dealers with a sideline in kid-friendly cigarettes. Agencies need to just stop pitching for oil,” said Ben Carey of Utopia Bureau.

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