By triggering a catastrophic oil spill in 2010, BP made a mockery of its own carefully orchestrated $200 million marketing campaign to tout the company’s green values. One year later, BP continues to pay a price for failing to deliver on its brand promise to move “Beyond Petroleum.” As The Wall Street Journal reported on September 7:
- The company’s share price is 44-percent lower than it was when the April 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster occurred – a rig explosion that killed 11 workers and inflicted harsh damage with far-reaching impact on anyone who calls Earth home.
- BP has lost nearly $80 billion of its market value since the disaster occurred.
An energy fund manager interviewed by The Wall Street Journal said, “The impression is that events are happening to BP, rather than BP shaping events. There’s a sense that the company is not in charge.”
Considering that BP is responsible for dropping a massive pile of dung on the world, I am relieved to know BP is not “shaping events.”
Actions speak louder than words, indeed.
By now most marketers can recite many examples of how social media has had a measurable impact on a brand, for better or worse. The BP fiasco is not one of those examples. In fact, the aftermath of the BP oil slick disaster suggests that some companies are beyond the reach of social media.
So far consumers’ use of social to rail against BP have proved to be nothing more than a lot of screaming into the void (my own efforts included). Perhaps you count yourself as one of the 650,000 fans of the Boycott BP Facebook page or one of the 170,000 followers of the wickedly funny BPglobalPR Twitter account. But as ComMetrics blog points out, BP has shrugged off social media reviews. There is nothing to suggest that social has done anything to hold BP accountable for its actions.
With the BP crisis, social has provided more of an outlet for our anger but not a launching pad to galvanize action. We “like” the Boycott BP Facebook page, perhaps post an angry message on its wall, and then call it a day. It’s as if Facebook has become a self-contained ghetto for protesters.
BP’s establishment of a $20 billion escrow fund for Gulf-related damage claims was seen as the first tangible sign that the company was being held accountable for its actions. But BP was responding to pressure brought by President Barack Obama, not by a Facebook page. And Obama’s most notable PR weapon against BP has been a time-honored broadcast medium (television).
So I think it’s fair to ask: are some companies immune to social?
Jeff Bezos once said famously that a brand is formed mostly by what a company does, not by what it says. If that’s the case, then the BP brand is in serious trouble — provided that consumers are going to take action, too. About 10 years go, BP repositioned its brand to stand for “Beyond Petroleum,” a sign of its commitment to making the world a better, cleaner place through a commitment to environmentally sound practices. As BP is fond of saying, “our products and services contribute to a better quality of life.”
Now let us consider the April 20 oil spill in the Golf Coast caused by the sinking of a drilling rig under the operation of BP. The spill has cost the lives of 11 crew members and created a “potentially unprecedented natural disaster” in the words of U.S. President Barack Obama. As reported by Guy Chazan in the May 3 Wall Street Journal, “The oil, still spewing from the well on the ocean floor, threatens to blacken the Louisiana shoreline and BP’s reputation.”
Now what was that about BP contributing to a better quality of life?
To be sure, BP is attempting to show it is taking action in the aftermath of the spill, as documented on the company’s website. But we should expect nothing less than a response to a catasrophe of BP’s own making.
Now for a hard question: how much will negative fall-out from the oil spill hurt BP in the long run? Yes, there is outrage over what BP has done. But at least in the United States, we call ourselves consumers for a good reason: we do like to consume things. Like cars. Gasoline. And all the goodies that you can buy at BP full-service stations.
Our short-term emotional response to the oil spill will compete with our long-term desire to consume — including all the things BP does to fuel our lifestyles. For consumers, actions speak louder than words, too.