As promised, this week DLB plans to drill into the BP brand and design strategy. Today: The research.
Back in July of 2000, British Petroleum, the world’s third largest global energy company, launched a massive $200 million public relations and advertising campaign, unveiling their current "green" brand image, in an attempt to win over environmentally aware consumers. The campaign was created by the British advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, who later the PRWeek 2001 "Campaign of the Year" award in the ‘product brand development’. All told, BP spent around $200m on the rebrand.
The heart of the rebrand involved changing the company’s name to BP (back from BP-Amoco, the result of a recent mega-merger), creating a wordmark in which small letters were used ("bp" was thought to have fewer imperialist associations than the erstwhile "BP"), and finally implementing a new corporate tagline, "beyond petroleum."
BP’s then CEO John Browne said: "It’s all about increasing sales, increasing margins and reducing costs at the retail sites." And it apparently did: During more than a decade with Browne as chief executive (ending last year), BP’s market value rose fivefold and its share price rose 250 percent.
Then BP PR advisor Peter Sandman described the rebranding project as an example of a company adopting the "reformed sinner" persona. Sandman notes that this "works quite well if you can sell it…[huge oil companies] can’t just start out announcing we are good guys, so what we have to announce is we have finally realised we were bad guys and we are going to be better.’ It makes it much easier for critics and the public to buy into the image of the industry as good guys…"
The "if you can sell it" bit may have proved not to have quite the legs Sandman anticipated, though. Skepticism in rampant not only among activists, but also in the maintream media. Fortune magazine’s Cait Murphy addressed BP’s billboards touting its involvement in renewable energy, "here’s a novel advertising strategy — pitch your least important product and ignore your most important one… If the world’s second-largest oil company is beyond petroleum, Fortune is beyond words."
CorpWatch researcher Kenny Bruno was even more blunt: “BP’s re-branding as the Beyond Petroleum company is perhaps the ultimate co-optation of environmentalists’ language and message. Even apart from the twisting of language, BP’s suggestion that producing more natural gas is somehow akin to global leadership is preposterous. Make that Beyond Preposterous.”
As it turns out, BP’s critics were not far off base. BP’s record of environmental protection has been no better than other oil companies’. Brand-reality dissonance abounds:
For example, while BP has staked out the brand-coherent public position of supporting of the Kyoto protocol – unlike the major American oil companies – Greenpeace New Zealand discovered in May 2002 that despite this, it continued to participate in a coalition lobbying the government not to ratify the convention. BP claimed that this was untrue, a claim which Greenpeace ultimately rejected, pointing to a February 2002 report produced on behalf of the coalition, which listed the Greenhouse Policy Coalition (GPC), of which BP is a member, among its members. The Chair of the GPC itself wrote an opinion column for a New Zealand newspaper titled "Nothing to gain from Kyoto Protocol."
In June 2005, The Independent reported that BP "has been privately lobbying in Washington to block legislation to introduce a mandatory curb on greenhouse gases in the U.S." In response, Environmental Defense’s Peter Goldmark noted that BP’s lobbying "is completely at odds with its record and its public statements." Clean Air Watch called BP guilty of "greenwashing on epic proportions."
In August 2007, Advertising Age reported that BP had received a permit to increase the amount of toxic discharges they dump into the Great Lakes. Chicago’s chief environmental officer remarked, "We’d like to have [BP] live up to their advertising."
AdAge called BP’s move "the cardinal sin of touting an environmentally conscious image in marketing — the central focus of BP’s advertising for the past several years — and failing to live up to the message."
If it ain’t broke?
Cardinal sin indeed. But so what? I can now personally attest to the fact that it works, not only on a micro-level, but on a macro level as well. So why should BP care about the ethics of their strategy? If brand-reality hypocrisy works so well, why change up? After all, isn’t it just the self-righteous sense of doing good that we’re after?
I don’t think so. And I’ll tell you why on Wednesday.
- John Browne steps down abruptly from BP; International Herald Tribune, 2007-05-01
- BP goes green; BBC, 2000-07-24
- bp: Beyond Petroleum? in Battling Big Business: Countering greenwash, infiltration and other forms of corporate bullying, Eveline Lubbers (ed.), Green Books (Devon, UK, 2002, pp. 26-32).
- Greenpeace challenges oil industry to outline routemap to renewable energy future; Greenpeace Press Release 2001-01-31
- BP at Sourcewatch
- Packaging the Beast: A Public Relations Lesson in Type Casting; PR Watch, 1996
|Tagged with:||Advertising, BP, Branding, Design Ethics, Green Design, Greenwashing, Hypocrisy, Research, Taxonomy of Unethical Designs, The Brand-Reality Corollary|