I’ve written a lot of weird sentences for this website, but this one might take the cake: A major gas company has published a remix of the 1990s R&B classic “No Diggity” as part of a safety PSA for gas customers. There’s a lot to unpack here!
In a press release about the new PSA, Southern Company Gas said it partnered with songwriter Chauncey Black, an original member of Blackstreet, which released “No Diggity” back in 1996, to rewrite the song. Lyrics like “we’ll do you the favor, we’re your homies/The original utility line savers” (sung in place of the original Dr. Dre verse) and “Gas lines, oh lord/We got them going around all over town” instruct the listener to call 811—“the national call-before-you-dig phone number”—prior to any excavations to make sure the utility comes out and mark the gas line to prevent explosions. The video sets the song over footage of a family pool party.
“Social media influencers in the states served by Southern Company Gas – Georgia, Illinois, Tennessee and Virginia – will be sharing the safe digging message and music video as part of the dynamic ‘No Diggity’ Safe Digging Campaign,” the release continues. (Influencers working on fossil fuel campaigns, it seems, is becoming increasingly common.)
So—listen. Safety PSAs are great, full stop. Gas lines can be incredibly dangerous, and explosions often happen when a gas line is accidentally hit during construction. (In 2019, a huge explosion in California killed 1 and hurt 15 after a contractor working on a house failed to call 811, like the “No Diggity” PSA instructs everyone to do.) Warning people about what not to do to keep their families and their homes safe is a good move for a gas company to make. In a quick Google search, I wasn’t able to find any record of serious safety violations or deadly explosions with gas lines owned by Southern Company Gas (although the company has several subsidiaries I didn’t check), so their safety record seems to be relatively clean—good for them. And I also don’t fault a working artist like Chauncey Black, who wants to leverage an incredible song he helped create a couple of decades ago and keep earning a little money off it while spreading an important safety message. Licensing your song for use in a safety PSA—that’s a great move!
But it’s hard to ignore the fact that simply electrifying homes and buildings and getting rid of gas lines altogether would remove the danger gas lines pose to customers, in addition to cutting out harmful emissions from using fossil fuels. Companies like Southern Company Gas, one of the biggest gas companies in the U.S., are actively lobbying against electrification—the move that would be far safer for their customers than running a bunch of PSAs—in order to keep themselves in business.
Southern Company Gas itself is a member of the pro-gas advocacy group Energy Solutions Center, which has actively organized against local efforts to pass bills that would ban new gas hookups. Southern Company, which owns Southern Company Gas, had the second-highest carbon dioxide emissions of any utility in the country in 2017; their short-on-details goal to get to net zero emissions by 2050 includes, somehow, building even more natural gas plants. For decades, Southern worked with other utilities to cast doubt on the science behind climate change. Southern’s CEO, who earned nearly $28 million dollars in 2019, questioned whether or not humans were the primary driver of climate change as recently as 2017.
The PSA also fits into the larger picture of oil and gas companies using fun campaigns to improve their image in the eyes of their customers. As far back as the 1970s, oil and gas companies have tapped into cultural influencers and media figures—the predecessors of social media influencers—to promote campaigns around their brands. This type of advertising, which was literally invented by Exxon, is intended to promote the brand image of an oil and gas company, rather than the product said company sells, in people’s minds.
We can see how successful a campaign like this can be with Conoco’s recent Gen Z-targeted social media push—which makes no mention of gasoline but still helped the company sell a whole lot of it. A catchy PSA like this can stick in a customer’s mind, helping them remember important gas safety line information—but also improve the brand image of Southern Company Gas itself.
I’m also struck in a different way by the wasted opportunity here for the climate movement as a whole. If anything, an adaptation of “No Diggity” should have been the anthem to encourage us to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Simply put, I’m mad the fossil fuel guys beat the climate people to the punch! If we’re going to make the “diggity” pun in such a painfully literal way and turn a classic 1990s hip-hop jam into some kind of statement about fossil fuels, it should definitely be about stopping us from digging (get it?) up those dangerous materials in the first place.
So if any non-profit climate groups, marketing professionals, and/or anyone else who wants to see a climate spin on a smooth R&B tune are reading this right now: reach out to Chauncey Black and see if he’s up for another bite at the “No Diggity” apple, this time for an anti-drilling PSA.