Opinion: The Marketing Society Forum - Will it benefit BP to remind consumers of the anniversary of the Gulf oil spill?

As the first anniversary of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig looms, BP is running a press ad campaign to highlight its penitence and the steps it has taken to address the damage

YES

Jemima Bird, Marketing director, Tragus Group

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was an environmental disaster at the highest level and a PR nightmare for BP. When the US president starts referring to your company as 'British Petroleum' as a means of distancing his country from your brand, you have a major business issue.

The fallout from the disaster exemplifies the high-octane media world in which we live, with wall-to-wall coverage everywhere from Facebook to 24-hour news channels.

For BP to retain credibility and humility, the decision to be brave enough to say 'we haven't forgotten' is a smart one. It puts the brand on the front foot, rather than waiting for the barrage of negative publicity.

I think consumers will regard the acknowledgement positively, even if they still feel negatively about the issue - penance is being paid and BP is taking its environmental requirements seriously.

If BP could just get Obama to drop the 'British' bit, there may be a rainbow at the end of a dark spill.

MAYBE

Jeff Dodds, Brand and marketing director, Virgin Media

I find my butt cheeks are nestling uncomfortably either side of the fence on this one.

Let's start with what I 'think'. BP suffered a lot of reputational damage as a result of the spills in the Gulf of Mexico, and from the text in the ads, it clearly feels as though it has a positive message to get across to the public.

Trying to put to one side the fact that it is using a catastrophic incident on which to hang the message, this is common-or-garden marketing. The folks at BP will be hoping that people feel, at best, warmer toward it as a result of reading the ads and, at worst, will at least be better educated about the steps that BP has taken over the past year. I am sure the pros and cons were keenly debated in the BP boardroom.

Now to how the ads make me 'feel'. Not very good, actually. I suppose I had assumed that BP was doing the right thing, and the fact that it feels compelled to spend millions telling me so doesn't make me feel great.

NO

Joe Clift, Brand and customer marketing director, Lloyds Banking Group

I will admit that I wavered on this one for some time: I have no objection in principle to BP seeking to regain its reputation by reminding people that it has continued to drill, safely and productively, in many other locations in the region; and no problem with the way in which the ads try to do this (sensitively, quite quietly).

What swung me was reading in The Times that BP has chosen the anniversary to launch lawsuits for damages, to the tune of $40bn (£24bn), against its partners and suppliers in the Gulf of Mexico, Halliburton included.

On that basis, I slide off the 'Maybe' fence - always an uncomfortable place anyway - and land definitively in the 'No' camp. Why would you choose to schedule an ad campaign to try to re-establish brand trust when the company is issuing hugely contentious lawsuits in the same week? If BP thought the positive vibe from the former might offset the negative reaction to the latter, I would humbly suggest that it might need to look at its PR and communications strategy.

NO

Michael Sugden, Managing director, VCCP

Aren't we all a bunch of hypocrites? One minute we're slagging off BP, the next minute we're moaning about how expensive it is to fill our 4x4s. We drive everywhere, take cabs everywhere and fly around the world on holiday. As a society we are petroleum junkies, and until we are prepared to change, the truth is we need companies like BP.

In addition, we have to accept that accidents, on occasion, will happen.

It is right for BP to accept responsibility. It is right for the company to inform people of its ongoing commitment to remedying the chaos it created.

However, until a more grown-up, less politically charged and less hypocritical debate can be had about the realities and risks of our petroleum addiction, BP's words are likely to fall on deaf ears.

Discussion

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