A video posted on YouTube, supposedly created by a 29-year-old guy from California calling himself Toutsmith, showing a caricature of Al Gore boring a group of penguins by lecturing them about global warming, has been revealed to be a creation of lobbying firm DCI Group, one of whose clients is Exxon Mobil Corp.
The fraud was exposed, surprisingly, by the Wall Street Journal. It's not clear to me exactly how they did it, since I haven't been able to access their article, but from what I can piece together they sent the creator of the video an email, and he must have responded to them. This gave them his IP address, which they promptly traced to the DCI Group.
As all the articles about this have been pointing out, the video is an example of "astroturf": The creation of a fake grassroots campaign. The London Times lists a few other recent examples of astroturf:
• In 2001 Microsoft was suspected of being behind a deluge of readers’ letters sent to newspapers complaining about the US Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit against the software company
• Last year an organisation called Working Families for Wal-Mart was set up to voice the opinions of people who believe the superstore chain is helping ordinary families of America. Most of its funding came from Wal-Mart
• Even environmental groups have been Astro Turfed. The harmless- sounding Save Our Species Alliance was accused of being a front for timber lobbyists to weaken the Endangered Species Act. It is headed by a veteran PR man and the former president of the Oregon Forest Industries Council
However, the penguin video also seems to be an example of Subviral Marketing, which refers to the practice of companies creating viral content which they then deny any association with. (See the Fake Puma Ad.) So maybe this video represents the creation of a new hybrid: Subviral Astroturf.