Oil and gas firms are increasingly realizing the importance of appealing to the Gen Z population, particularly as their voices on social media and other public forums are influencing the climate change response and national energy agendas. With more pressure than ever to transition away from fossil fuels to renewable alternatives, oil and gas firms may rely on this young generation for their survival in the coming decades.
Shell Plc (NYSE:SHEL) is the first of the oil majors to announce its entrance onto the social media platform Tik Tok, to appeal to younger, climate-aware audiences. It said in June that it was looking for a candidate to manage its Tik Tok activity who could create content that would appeal to Gen Z. Shell’s post for the role, based in London, said “You will start a new chapter that will help Energy Engaged Audience and Gen Z worldwide understand in an engaging way the opportunities of Energy Transition and the Shell role and ambition in it.”
This is just the latest of Shell’s efforts to appeal to the environmentally aware youth, having previously collaborated with influencers to launch campaigns such as #MakeTheFuture and promoting its green energy developments with the help of celebrities. The company even released a music video in 2017, featuring Jennifer Hudson, Pixie Lott, and other famous icons to promote its “sustainable, renewable, energy-rich, lower carbon future”. While this is a step in the right direction for Shell, and potentially other major oil firms following in its footsteps, to win the attention of the younger generations, it will have to be careful to avoid accusations of greenwashing. Last year, Shell was ordered by a Dutch court to cut its emissions by 45 percent, from 2019 levels, as despite big promises it was not doing enough to reduce its carbon footprint. Shell received further criticism from the environmental organization Greenpeace, which accused the oil firm of greenwashing. Greenpeace suggests that simply offsetting carbon emissions is not the same as making a real green transition and that Shell is failing to respond to Paris Agreement and COP26 climate summit promises in its operations.
Shell launching its brand Tik Tok has been a long time coming, as the influence of Gen Z on the energy industry has been highlighted for several years. The population born between 1995-2012 makes up around one-fifth of the U.S. population, and, having grown up in the digital era, has some of the greatest presence online. Many environmentally conscious Gen Z youths use social media platforms for activism, calling on companies to be more socially responsible. This has dramatically changed how companies across numerous industries promote themselves, relying on social media campaigns, rather than traditional media channels, and highlighting their ESG activity to appeal to the younger population.
The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial survey highlights the desire for companies to cut their carbon emissions and make more sustainable choices. Protecting the environment is a top priority, with many youths using their purchasing power to make more sustainable choices and avoid companies that are not advancing their ESG practices.
In 2021, a poll showed that around 60 percent of Americans blamed the oil and gas industry for the climate crisis. The YouGov poll showed that many wanted oil and gas companies to be held to account for lying about the climate crisis and contributing to global heating. Increasing public pressure on oil and gas firms has already led several to rebrand to change their identity. For example, last year, French oil major Total became TotalEnergies, reflecting the diversification of its energy portfolio. Other oil firms have launched renewable energy business sectors and funds to promote their transition to green energy – regardless of how big a proportion of their operations is actually green.
Chevron launched its $100 million Future Energy Fund to invest in breakthrough technologies. While Italian firm Eni established a dedicated energy solutions department to develop renewable growth opportunities. Meanwhile, Shell acquired several renewable energy companies, from electricity and gas supplier First Utility and EV-charging expert NewMotion in Europe to solar company Silicon Ranch in the US. As major oil and gas firms strive to develop their green energy operations, they are working hard to promote these activities to a disillusioned audience of youths who blame them for the climate crisis.
While Shell is the first oil major to expand its social media activity to Tik Tok, in a bid to win the support of Gen Z, several oil and gas firms around the world have long been working to diversify their energy portfolios and make sure they are been seen for it. Regular rebrands and the development of green business sectors are helping Big Oil to catch the eyes of the younger generation, but they will have to put their money where their mouths are to win them over.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com