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.