The BP Brand Fallout – Consumers Weigh In

June 4, 2010

bp beyone petroleum sign The BP Brand Fallout   Consumers Weigh InEarlier this month, I wrote a post about how the BP brand is being affected since the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Sadly, the spill has yet to be contained and the BP brand is feeling the fallout.

However, several surveys and studies have been conducted in recent weeks in an attempt to gauge consumers’ opinions about the BP brand since the oil spill, and the results might not be entirely what you’d expect.

Following are some highlights from those reports (via BrandWeek):

  • From an Economist and YouGov survey: When it comes to trusting BP to “do the right thing in stopping the oil spill and cleaning it up,” 9% of respondents said they trust BP “a great deal” and 13% trust BP “quite a bit” while 20% have “only some” trust that BP will do the right thing, and another 20% said they have “very little” trust that BP will do the right thing.  The majority of respondents, 28%, trust BP “not at all.”  The remaining respondents stated that they were not sure how they felt.
  • From the same Economist and YouGov survey: 65% of respondents believe that BP and other companies involved in the oil spill are “pointing the blame on others and avoiding responsibility” while just 35% believe BP and other companies involved are “doing whatever it takes to stop the spill and clean up the oil.”
  • From a USA Today/Gallup poll: 34% of the respondents rated BP’s response to the spill as “poor” and 39% rated it as “very poor”.  Only 6% rated BP’s response as “very good” and 18% rated it “good.”
  • From a Pew Research Center and National Journal Congressional Connection poll: 44% rated BP’s response to the oil spill as “poor” and 26% rated it “only fair” while 16% rated BP’s response “good” and 3% rated it “excellent.”
  • From a CNN and Opinion Research Corp. poll: 76% of respondents disapprove of BP’s response to the oil spill and 24% percent approve.

So it appears to be safe to draw the conclusion from the results of these varied studies that consumers are not happy with BP’s response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  However, the most interesting piece of data from these surveys is probably one that comes from the CNN and Opinion Research Corp. poll where consumers were asked whether or not the BP oil spill will affect their willingness to purchase gasoline from a BP station.  70% of respondents said that the oil spill does not affect their decision on where to purchase gas while just 28% said they are less likely to purchase gasoline from a BP station since the oil spill.

Despite the current negative public sentiment for the BP brand, consumers will still buy from BP because a gasoline purchase is not typically an emotional purchase decision.  Instead, gasoline purchases are typically a convenience and price driven purchase decision.  Not many consumers are willing to drive out of their way to purchase gasoline from a specific brand.

Despite that consumer behavior, BP is doing damage control by placing ads in publications like the New York Times where a full-page BP ad appeared on June 2nd using messages like, “We will get this done. We will make this right.”  Also, the “Beyond Petroleum” tagline is conspicuously missing from the BP logo in the ad.

Normally after seeing this type of ad, I’d pose the question — do you think it’s too little too late for BP?  However, based on the results of the consumer surveys mentioned above, it seems like this type of ad spending might not even be necessary for BP.  Even though consumers are not happy with BP, the majority are still quite willing to purchase gas from BP, which is what makes this story so unique and interesting.  What lessons will we ultimately be able to learn from a branding perspective when the BP oil spill story is over?  It will be interesting to find out as the story continues to unfold.

Whether you agree with how BP is handling the oil spill response or not, one thing is for certain — this is an event that brand managers and strategists should watch and learn from (both the good and bad).

Image: Flickr

Oil Companies Among The Best | FTSE 100 Website Reviews

June 3, 2010

Classic Oil Rig Trim Oil Companies Among The Best | FTSE 100 Website ReviewsThere are some business sectors for whom sustainability is a hot issue, and with oil spilling all over the Gulf of Mexico and Shell recently admitting it hadn’t done enough in the Niger Delta, oil producers are definitely among those with the greatest CSR problems in the world.

So perhaps it’s not surprising then to find that they have some of the most progressive CSR websites around.

One of the facets which leads to this conclusion is the sites’ interactive data provision.  This was pioneered a few years ago by Shell but, in a fine example of site content competitiveness, BP has also introduced its own set of interactive data tools as have several others.

However, if this innovation is left to one side, how else do the websites perform?  In a slight change to previous FTSE 100 Website Reviews, this one looks not just at two big hitters within the UK, BP and Shell, but also one from continental Europe, Total, and one from the USA, Exxon Mobil.

Interestingly, these are also respectively the fourth, first, sixth and second largest companies in the world, according to Forbes.  Will their websites reflect this?

BP

BP at present is all over the news because of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and it’s interesting to note that other oil companies have not been shy in issuing press releases about what they think BP should be doing to “plug the leak”.

It’s unsurprising therefore to find that the BP site has a special “Gulf of Mexico response” section on its top level menu bar.  I have long bemoaned the fact companies rarely react to bad news on their websites, simply because it’s a perfect stakeholder engagement opportunity which should not be missed.

BP make the case for such bad news sections admirably, with daily updates, technical briefings, regional responses and all sorts of maps and data.  Admittedly there are few bad news stories worse than Deepwater Horizon, but then not every one needs such comprehensive coverage.  Just ignoring the issue, however, tends to alienate stakeholders, not engage them.

The company’s more traditional CSR section, headlined “Environment and society”, covers a wide variety of issues from traditional Environment management to Alternative energy and the “BP Energy Lab”.  This latter includes an energy consumption calculator, a fun energy quiz and the ability to share an energy fact with other website users.

The site, in BP’s green and yellow livery, is surprising on the eye rather than shocking, but with every page throwing up context sensitive links in the right hand column there’s more than enough to keep you interested in discovering more.

Shell

Shell is one of the few websites these days which does not have a main menu banner across the top of its pages.  Instead it has a more traditional breadcrumb trail and uses solely the headings in the left hand column to provide visitor navigation.

This can give the impression there is less content on the “Environment and society” site than there really is as, quite sensibly, the left hand menus contract as you move from section to section.  However the full set of section headings is presented in the page footers and visitors may navigate from there.

Interestingly, Shell maintains dedicated country-based independent websites (presumably based upon its operational locations).  Each of these conforms precisely to the Shell corporate layout but each has its own “Environment and society” content focusing upon the specific issues which that country faces.

The content isn’t allowed too far off the leash and most of the subsections refer the reader to the global site, for further information, and the company’s overall sustainability report.  However, this is a nice nod in the direction of acknowledging that different communities need very different engagement from a corporate multinational.

Like BP, Shell follows its corporate livery and has designed the site around the red and yellow of its logo.  However this is barely noticeable and the majority of pages are a simple and unobtrusive affair of black text on a white background with a splash of colour at the top.

Total

Unlike BP and Shell, Total’s website is not based around its logo colours.  Instead it uses a big bold frame to surround its content whose colour is determined by the section being viewed: for example orange for “About Us”, blue for “Investors” and green for “Environment and society”.

The sections the company uses approach the material from a slightly different angle to most. with two of the sections titled “contributing to host country development” and “operating in challenging environments”.  There’s even a section on socially responsible investment within the investors section.

Probably the most interesting part of their website though is the innocuously named “Expert infos” section.  This contains some brief Q&A sessions held with some French luminaries, such as the co-winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and the European Chair of Sustainable Development – Environment, Energy and Society at Collège de France.

A fair few of these are involved in Total operations in one way or another, so a small bit of salt needs to be taken with the information.  However by no means all of the detail is aimed at puffing up Total and it is refreshing to see information provided for information’s sake.  Very French, given the country’s tradition of philosophical discourse.

It is this slightly different approach to sustainability which draws you into the Total website, alongside the accessibility innovation of having most if not all of the website pages available in audio form as well.

ExxonMobil

Exxon Mobil’s website is interesting for a number of reasons.  The first is that it has one of the most comprehensive corporate News sections on the web.  Press releases are not limited just to Investor Relations matters but cover all aspects of the company’s operations, ranging in May from the appointment of directors to the preparedness of Red Cross volunteers ahead of hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico.

However these are just the tip of the iceberg.  The section also includes “thoughts”, “publications” and “features”.  Although these are not categorised, because energy and oil is very much under the sustainability spotlight practically all are relevant in one way or another.

In addition, the company’s “op-ed” section is categorised.  This holds an archive of all the opinion pieces the company has had published in a variety of  journals and newspapers, such as the New York Times.

It is this thoroughness which pervades the rest of the company’s CSR offering, which eschews the European categorisation and is split between “energy and environment” and “community and society” sections.  Each neatly and succinctly keeps the section’s main headings and quick links in the left hand column with sitewide widgets in the right hand one and main content in the centre.

In total, a well presented site whose blue-grey design and mix of words and white space makes it easy to spend time on and investigate further.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to pick one site over another simply because different points of emphasis creates such a variety it would be manifestly unfair to say one way better than the other.

However, the oil extraction and refinement business has long been under the sustainability spotlight and if other companies wish to find out how to write the perfect sustainability website they could do a lot worse then scrutinise these.

Picture Credit: Classic Oil Rig by epredator from flickr under Creative Commons Attribution License, trimmed by Chris Milton.

BP – Flooded in Oil Rather than ‘Beyond Petroleum’

May 11, 2010

bp beyond petroleum BP   Flooded in Oil Rather than Beyond PetroleumFor years, BP has used the “Beyond Petroleum” tagline to massage the perception of the BP brand as being one that stands for so much more than oil.  While the company has been accused of greenwashing by using that tagline, given that almost all of its revenue comes from oil-related activities, the tagline did succeed in differentiating the brand from the Exxon’s of the world.  Remember, marketing and branding is all about perceptions.  Right?

But what happens when events prove those perceptions were fabricated?

BP never claimed it wasn’t in the oil business with the Beyond Petroleum tagline, but the company did attempt to position its brand as the antithesis of big oil companies that care only about profits regardless of the negative effects their products and businesses have on the environment.

Until April 2010, BP managed to protect its brand positioning as the oil company that puts the environment first, despite previous problems.  But can BP retain that positioning now that the company caused one of the biggest oil spills in history off the coast of Louisiana?

Probably not.  However, there is more to this story than brand positioning.  Do consumers truly care where their gasoline, etc. comes from?  Will they drive out of their way to find a non-BP gas station?

Certainly, consumers care, but the truth of the matter is that there is little difference in consumers’ minds about oil company brand positioning.  All of those companies are grouped together, for the most part, in consumers’ minds.

Therefore, BP will undoubtedly survive, but it’s highly likely (and suggested) that BP go through a rebranding.  Beyond Petroleum won’t get the job done anymore.  The more interesting question from a branding perspective is whether or not there is a brand message and position that truly could differentiate an oil company from its competitors — something that would make consumers pay more than the excessive prices they already pay and make them want to drive out of their way to find a gas station that offers fuel from a specific company.

What do you think?  Can it be done?  Leave a comment and let’s discuss!

Image: Flickr

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