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May 8, 2005

Smoke Up The Behind


One thing I’ve become more aware of lately is the diminishing difference between political and brand advertising.  This is just one example of a noxious player blowing smoke. 

Before we get to the visual, however, check out the primary directive:

"We’re all for reducing emissions."

Love the underline!  Thanks for telling me what I’m for!

(Of course, going lowercase is also a thoughtful reminder that it’s a soft sell after all!) 

And the image?  (I guess I should first warn you, I haven’t had the smoothest relationship with chemistry.) 

Take a look at the thickness of the fumes on the right half of the ad as compared to the left.  Does it make sense that the vapor would be more dense and voluminous on the right or "intake" side?  Also, are they trying to suggest that they are capturing 100% of whatever escapes?  And, how does the visual analogy equate to the actual science — if it even does.  If they are supposedly capturing 100% of what they are emitting, why would they need to show it escaping in the first place?  Is it even clear what process they are referring to?  ExxonMobil is primarily involved in the production of gasoline, which is primarily responsible for air pollution and ozone depletion caused by auto emissions.  The ad, however, refers to the capture of steam.  If you read the ad copy, aren’t they doing a bait-and-switch in which steam capture is (intentionally) confused with emission reduction?  Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems the company is using one process to cloud the other.  

Beyond the science, the "closed loop" is interesting from a political standpoint.  Could it represent an insistence on managing environmental problems without outside interference?  

And, why a kettle?  Is it a symbol of domesticity that tested well for the feeling of reassurance?  Can’t you just hear those ad guys pitching the association with home, soothing and warmth?  (Worried about global warming?  Here, sit down and have a cup of tea!)  Perhaps there is also a subtext that, like industrial emissions, a kettle can be dangerous too — if not for simple, routine care.  (No problem.  These things are easy to handle!

Oh, and what about the color scheme?  Could it be that the issue is that black-and-white?  The design of the kettle is also telling.  The steel, and the overall design, connotes that Exxon is not just smart but cutting edge.  At the same time, because the look involves the contemporary restyling of a classic look (note the quaint "knob" top and the rounded wood handle), the impression is also that they’ve been doing it forever.

For my taste, though, I like that dark half-circle shaped reflection centered at the base of the pot.  In contrast with the rest of the appliance, it looks like the entrance to a tunnel — one with no light at the end.

(Ad copy: Exxon-Mobil refineries capture steam that would otherwise be wasted and use it in the refining process.  Recent energy-saving initiatives like this have had a dramatic effect on emissions: the equivalent of taking well over a million cars off the road, every year.)

(image; ExxonMobil ad — New Yorker Magazine, May 2, 2005)

  • Asta

    When I first saw this ad last week in “The Week” magazine-lite, I thought, “Exxon’s blowing smoke up our asses again.”
    The “kettle” is totally wrong as an image and a symbol in this ad. Kettles emit steam but there is no intake feature which said to me, “This is impossible, it’s bogus.” Thus the text is bogus.
    I think your analogy with the tunnel is dead on. Taken a step further, the white ring around the “tunnel” reminded me of half a toilet seat. Perhaps it is the view we will be sharing once everything starts going down the crapper.

  • Lizifer

    When I first saw the add, I thought it said, “We’re all for ridiculous emissions.” It seems to me that ExxonMobil actually reducing emissions is as plausible as having a kettle that catches it’s own steam. I’ve never really bought into big corporate companies caring about the environment. It just seems like they are trying to win over all the nature nuts.

  • black dog barking

    I, too, am not a chemist and this is bait and switch. The picture says the Process ( for which my non-technical mind substitutes the whole hydro-carbons to energy thing ) is now more efficient. The text says they now create more product with a bit less raw energy input, makes no claim to extracting more toxic material from the emissions they continue to produce.
    A more accurate picture would show a ledger with a larger number on the bottom line. A smaller expense vector, a larger profit.
    The million cars part screams Bullshit. Imagine an industrial process where a small efficiency in recycling heat saves upwards of a billion gallons of fuel per annum. Assign a savings, say 3%, invert and multiply and Exxon – Mobil would have us believe they were spending 10’s of billions generating heat, that they just now figured out how do use the heat better. Didn’t the Provisional Coalition Authority claim they would realize $20 billion a year from sale of Iraq’s oil? Does Exxon – Mobil use the annual oil production of Iraq to make steam?

  • mugatea

    I hear an alarm, the whistle of the kettle, when I have seen this image of late. Makes me want to jump up and turn off the stove, not efficient. It also looks like if one reached for this kettle it would burn one’s hand. Most, if not all, tea drinkers would never want the water to acheive that high a level of temperature. The word Exxon in any context, to me, means oil covered birds.

  • Douglass Truth

    What I get is more from the choice of words than the image. “We’re all for reducing emissions” feels like the first part of a statement like, “We’re all for reducing emissions, but…” it’s too expensive, it’s not really necessary since the science isn’t solid, the chinese are worse…
    If you haven’t read the series in the New Yorker on this subject, you oughta. I don’t worry about the economy any more!

  • Joe

    Dark days when corporations are not monitored
    but every individual person is.
    These days, my friend,
    are now.

  • Nick

    The most conspicuous omission from the picture is the gas burner under the kettle, the energy source driving the process and one of the product that ExxonMobil sells.
    I do know a bit about the science and policy involved with systems like the one I guess they are talking about. Refineries burn a lot of fuel to heat up and evaporate crude oil to separate it into usable components. It sounds like they are using steam from some other source (they don’t really say but I’d guess a power plant) to pre-warm thier crude and cut back on fuel costs, which is exactly what they care about.
    It’s probably just a few percent of their total emissions, but every little bit helps and proving the money savings in things like this is one of the best ways we have to encourage companies to clean up their act.

  • aethorian

    C’mon kids, everybody join hands and sing along!

    I’m a little teapot
    Short and stout
    Here is my handle
    Here is my spout

    When I get all steamed up
    Hear me shout
    Tip me over
    and pour me out!”

  • aethorian

    One more time: Short and stouter

  • sputnik

    I agree that the statment “We’re all for reducing emissions” begs a “But…”
    “But it’s like blowing stuff up our ass.”
    Definately denigrating the reduction of emissions.
    They know exactly what they’re doing.

  • thei3ug

    I work for a construction company that does a lot of work on power stations, steel mills, refineries…
    I think you may be surprised to find that steam is bought and sold by power companies to industry just as electricity and natural gas. Most of that white billowing pollution you see in heavy industrial areas is water vapor.
    Recycling steam in the mills and refineries is a HUGE energy and pollution saving measure. Those numbers that you guys are balking at, while sensational, are pretty accurate in terms of energy use for industry.
    I bet a lot of you would be fasciated (or horrified) at just how much fuel is used to keep the momentum of big industry.
    Sure, it’s mostly about reducing costs. Personally I’m all for using market forces to influence corporate america to care about the environment. economics is an effective motivator.

  • cynic

    ok, exxon is for reducing emissions, ge has ecomagination. what’s next? paris hilton is a genius?

  • aethorian

    Oil extraction and refining is an amazingly complex process. The basics of oil refining can be seen here, with refinery/tanker tours and cracking animations here (courtesy of ExxonMobil).
    Without oil-derived products and services—fuel, transportation, chemicals, plastics, power generation—none of us would be sitting where we are at the moment, pecking away on computer keyboards.
    It’s back to hayburners and infernal machines otherwise.

  • Dean Livingston

    From aethorian… “Without oil-derived products and services—fuel, transportation, chemicals, plastics, power generation—none of us would be sitting where we are at the moment, pecking away on computer keyboards.”
    Really. We needed to have the OBVIOUS pointed out to us…duh!
    What I’d like to point out is something from the past (oh long ago).
    This is the same company that brought you the Exxon-Valdez criminal disaster near Alaska. They were sued and their minions of lawyers have fought the payoff
    down to a single hour’s profit. But they refuse to pay. Exxon/Mobile is the
    most egregious example of an evil corporation and nothing they do to blow their horn about being eviro-friendly should be believed or even analysed!

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