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Exxon Energy Quiz Ad

2014 January 13
by Shared by Steve Rust

Last night, while watching the Golden Globes, I was struck by an Exxon Mobile ad that began, “Here’s a question for you. Is your TV powered by coal?” On an evening that NBC/Universal did not emphasize their “Green is Universal” marketing campaign and none of the presenters or award winners I saw made comments about ecological issues, this Exxon ad gave me pause to consider how my TV is powered.  Here in Western Oregon, our primary source of energy is hydroelectric energy generated by a series of large dams on the Columbia River. According to the statistics provided by the Exxon ad, this means I am one of just 13% of energy consumer’s in the United States whose TV is powered by renewable energy. According to Exxon, 39% of our electricity comes from coal, 28% from natural gas, 19% from nuclear, 13% from renewables, and 1% from oil.

I find it interesting that the ExxonMobile ad looked more like a public service announcement than a marketing pitch, a savvy move fro the company give the audience it is trying to reach with these ads. These types of ads, which I have seen recently from Chevron, BP, and other petroleum giants seem primarily designed to keep us from asking deeper questions about these companies, to lull us into a false sense of security as we drive down the highway and stop to fill our tanks. Yet on an evening dedicated to celebrating celebrity, I found it ironic that the ad provided the best way into the conversation about environmental change, fossil fuel consumption, and even giving me pause to step back and recognize that even the renewable energy powering my TV has come at a steep price – particularly to the native tribes whose way of life was forever altered when the great Columbia fisheries at places like Celilo Falls were dammed (damned!) to give way for The Dalles Dam and other hydroelectric generators along the river.

The ad got me thinking about how I can make a more focused effort to use cultural studies pedagogy such as Stuart Hall’s work on dominant, negotiated, and oppositional readings to encourage students to make similar connections as they consume mainstream media.


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