The protesters sent out a fake press release yesterday (18 October), purporting to come from Chevron itself, saying it was releasing ads proclaiming "Oil companies should fix the problems they create".
The oil company was due to release details of its new ad campaign yesterday, called "We Agree", but the protesters arranged to send their own version of the press release out ahead of the corporation.
Instead, news outlets around the world received a hoax press release with the same "We Agree" strapline, just hours before the genuine press release was sent out. It featured one ad with the line "Oil Companies Should Clean Up Their Messes".
It is understood the protesters received a tip-off about the timing of the new campaign from a blogger a few weeks ago.
It has been widely reported by international news channels that the protesters were members of the environmental groups Yes Men and the Rainforest Action Network.
The fake press release included fabricated quotes from real Chevron executives, as well as a link to a spoof Chevron website, which aimed to highlight the company’s environmental responsibilities.
It includes the message: "For decades, oil companies like ours have worked in disadvantaged areas, influencing policy in order to do there what we can't do at home. It's time this changed. People in Ecuador, Nigeria, the Gulf of Mexico, Richmond, and elsewhere have a right to a clean and healthy environment too."
The genuine Chevron press release includes a quote from Rhonda Zygocki, vice-president of policy, government and public affairs at Chevron, saying: "We hear what people say about oil companies – that they should develop renewables, support communities, create jobs and protect the environment – and the fact is, we agree".
The fake release made up a quote for the same executive Rhonda Zygocki. It said: "Chevron is making a clean break from the past by taking direct responsibility for our own actions."
Chevron's "We Agree" campaign includes a series of print ads and 30-second TV spots, created by McGarryBowen.
The fake website includes an update since sending out the press release yesterday, which said "Okay, we admit it: We punked Chevron".
It added: "Some reporters got fooled by our spoof. Others managed to figure out it was a parody before they published their piece, but even still, we’d managed to derail much of the press about Chevron’s pricey new PR effort."
The Yes Men have a history of launching similar stunts on "corporations we don’t like" such as the American multinational Dow Chemical Co. Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, Yes Men ringleaders, have posed as spokespeople for industrial corporations.
In 2004, Bichlbaum lured the BBC into interviewing him during their coverage of the 20th anniversary of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, where several thousands of people in India were exposed to toxic gas from a pesticide plant.
Bichlbaum posed as a spokesperson from the Dow Chemical Co, which inherited responsibility for the clean-up of the site in 2001, when it acquired the company which operated it during the disaster.
He said the company would clean up the site and pay out billions of dollars to the survivors.