Can BP advertise its way out of the crisis?

21 Aug

In response to their plunging share prices and enduring one of the most damaging public relations disasters in memory, British Petroleum opted to throw $50 million at a Washington crisis management firm.

Among the PR company’s recommendations, accepted by BP, was a massive ad campaign to boost shareholder confidence, reassure staff and build bridges to the public.

No less a celebrity tweeter than US President Barack Obama criticized BP’s campaign as insensitive, saying that the money would have been better spent helping people victimized by the disaster.

Undaunted, BP is pressing on with their advertising damage control. You can see their efforts in action on their website here.

But can you control this type of public perceptual shift? Twenty years ago the corporations only had to worry about silencing journalists to control the flow of information. Today the public is doing most of the talking via social networking sites. There is simply no controlling that.

This unfettered sharing of information puts damage controllers in uncharted territory.

I came across this sagacious quote in Ad Age: “The best PR and advertising in the world cannot compete with that live video stream of that oil coming out of the bottom of the sea.” Chris Gidez, Hill & Knowlton.

I’m with Obama. Spending millions to save your own ass is probably not the best way to convince people you are going to make things right.


3 Responses to “Can BP advertise its way out of the crisis?”

  1. Russel August 21, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    BP would improve their brand identity at lot more by focusing (a la PR man David Meerman Scott) on what people want to hear, not what BP wants to say. I.e. “This is what we’re doing to help those affected by this disaster.” “This is what we are doing to ensure it never happens again.” “sorry, sorry, sorry.”
    One of the first rules in crisis management is be human, empathetic and sincere. BP can’t stop being corporate, detached and unaffected.

  2. dougbrowncreative August 21, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    Great point Russ. There’s a certain arrogance to their position. I wonder if the big ad campaign was really the way the Crisis Management firm wanted to go.

    Every company screws up at some stage, some on a grand scale. The public can be quite forgiving in the face of a genuine mea culpa and steps to ensure it never happens again, as we have seen with Toyota. BP only has itself to blame here. As you day, corporate, detached and unaffected.


  3. dougbrowncreative August 22, 2010 at 7:29 am #

    Post post: Just came across this blog take on BP’s effort versus how Toyota (mis)managed their own disaster. Good points.

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