Recently the BBC was duped into interviewing someone, purportedly from Dow Chemical, who claimed that Dow would admit full responsibility for the Bhopal disaster. Reading this hoax Dow website instead of the real one, the BBC read a faked statement and had unknowingly contacted the owners, an activist organization called The Yes Men, asking for an interview.
With the 20th anniversary of the tragedy earlier this month, there has been some discussion about Dow’s responsibilities. Dow had acquired Union Carbide some years before and it was Union Carbide who had owned the plant in Bhopal, India. The Yes Men, experts in spoofing large organizations, jumped at the chance to draw attention to the cause and a call from the BBC must have seemed like manna from heaven.
The Yes Men provide an interesting account of the day and their actions and one can’t help but smile at seeing a large organization completely outmaneuvered by amateurs in thrift-shop suits. But what’s more interesting is that, truth be told, there are very few companies in the world today who could hope to keep up with this kind of guerrilla, Internet-based activism.
Corporate websites are as faceless as the buildings their parents occupy and few organizations make an effort to demystify themselves to consumers. David Bowen has found one organization that has, Opus Dei, and ironically it is a part of the Roman Catholic Church, not an organization associated with being at the cutting edge of web and marketing trends.
If modern corporations want to keep their faces clear of egg from media stunts like the ones The Yes Men perpetrate, they need to create web presences with more immediacy, relevance and timeliness, being prepared to address consumers as colleagues and friends rather than subjects. The web rewards great content and a frank approach.