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Fake Climate Change Ads Aim To Point Out Corporate Hypocrisy


We are also tracking this story this morning. Environmental groups in Paris for climate talks would like to be protesting, making a point on the streets. They have been hampered by heavy security measures. This is after all a city that was attacked just a few weeks ago. But for a few days at least, a subversive ad campaign quietly infiltrated city streets and is now online. These look like ordinary corporate ads linked to the talks called COP21. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports on what the ads really mean.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Parisians waiting at a number of bus stops around the French capital this week had the usual corporate ads to stare at. But wait. Why is that Air France flight attendant holding her finger to her lips as if she's sharing a secret? And what's that she's saying? Here's what it might sound like.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Tackling climate change, of course not. We are an airline, so we will keep on bribing politicians and emitting greenhouse gases, Air France, part of the problem.

KENYON: The high-quality art in the ads is so convincing that many people took them for genuine corporate PR. High school student Thomas Genescia says he did a double take as he walked past what looked like an ad for Volkswagen.

THOMAS GENESCIA: I was surprised because I saw it, and I thought it was real. And then I saw what was written, and I'm saying that's not possible that Volkswagen says that.

KENYON: Volkswagen is not a COP21 sponsor but is facing a global emissions fraud scandal. One fake VW ad says, drive cleaner, or just pretend to. Another simply says, we're sorry we got caught. A video released by Brandalism, the group behind the ads, shows how some 600 faux ads were surreptitiously placed along Paris streets. Brandalism has been subverting corporate advertisements since the 2012 London Olympics. For security reasons, members don't give their names. I met a soft-spoken young man from the group who says the Paris conference offered many tempting targets. Take GDF Suez, the French energy company that rebranded itself Engie in a move to portray itself as more eco-friendly. The Brandalism spokesman has his doubts that a company with dozens of coal-fired power plants is part of the climate solution.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And they're planning to build seven more. So are they part of the solution if they're still planning to build coal stations? I'm not sure, and a lot of the kind of new rebranded slick propaganda that they put out from their public relations is that they are.

KENYON: Parisians, those who've seen the ads anyway, seem mostly positive. Sixty-year-old Malika Sais says it's a resourceful way to make an uncomfortable point in the face of major security restrictions.

MALIKA SAIS: (Through interpreter) Because those people, they weren't allowed to protest. So this is their way to denounce what the powers don't want discussed. It was a good thing to do.

KENYON: Brandalism says although most of the fake ads have been taken down, the images may yet make a reappearance in the coming days, a reminder that climate change activism can come in many forms and may pop up when you least expect it. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.