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BP’s new ads are a waste of money

If I didn’t tell you this was a commercial for BP, you wouldn’t know it until 52 seconds in. But when you see BP’s leafy green logo, you’ll know this isn’t just any tourism campaign. And you’ll realize you’ve been tricked by BP. Again.

It’s hard to overstate the amount of damage done to the BP brand by the Deepwater Horizon explosion of April 2010, which killed 11 people and caused an environmental disaster. Once you’ve poisoned the sea, it’s hard to regain people’s trust.

BP’s latest ad campaign about the oil spill includes these fluffy TV commercials about how sunny life is these days in the Gulf region. It’s like the spill never happened! Or when you hear lines like, “best tourism season in years,” you might think BP somehow helped!

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There’s also a more direct BP commercial (below) featuring BP “community outreach” person Iris Cross putting a cheerful spin on the company’s efforts in the Gulf, but it is also hard to take seriously. An environmental activist group noticed that one of BP’s wide shots of a beach accidentally includes, improbably, a picture of their protest! (Spotted via Adweek and Fuel Fix.)

Meanwhile, the Associated Press finds some Gulf locals who say BP’s ads aren’t credible. An oceanographer in Alabama says, “They should be a little more apologetic and less triumphant.” And a Louisiana fisherman, regarding BP’s claims that fishing areas have reopened, says, “It’s bogus, it’s not the truth.”

A lying oil company. Who’d have thought.

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BP is a rare case. What the company did was so horrible, and so public, and so universally denounced, that there’s almost nothing they can do to regain credibility. The only answer is to be really, really good for a really, really long time. And to win over independent sources, like those Louisiana fishermen, and let them spread the word organically. Advertising won’t help, because everyone will just assume it’s a pack of lies.

Whoever sold BP these ads is committing communications malpractice. BP should direct its money to solving the problems it created, and let that work speak for itself. That can only take place in the slow timeline of culture shifts, not the ticking clock of quarterly earnings statements. Until that happens—5 years from now? A decade?–no ad can help.

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Who created these ads?

Purple Strategies of Washington, DC, created the TV spots.

BP also has communications support from Ogilvy & Mather, New York, which produced the digital ads, and Ogilvy Public Relations, Washington, DC, which created the social media campaign. More information here.

Who signed off on them?

Geoff Morrell, BP America’s vice president for communications

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Advertising, Television


  1. I saw the first ad on television and at the time, I had a different take: It seemed more a public service that was owed to the region, sort of a “You drove them away, so you have to help bring them back” obligation. (At the time, I missed the painful irony of “best tourism season in years.”) Thus, I was prepared to disagree with your post—until I watched the second ad. OMG.

    To have the narrator say “we’re paying for all spill-related clean-up costs” while the text reads “paying all legitimate clean-up costs” is sleight-of-hand legalese that says to me, “Our lawyers are carefully scrutinizing so-called hardships brought to us by scammers looking to capitalize on whatever guilt we’re supposed to feel about this ‘incident’.” If you can’t make a rah-rah “we’re doing so much” ad without trying to cover your ass against people who will say you aren’t doing enough, don’t run the ad. Let the oil-stained sleeping dog lie.

    Some people hate marketing. Sometimes, I can see why.

    • Diane Castle says:

      Really good point. BP owes the region, for sure, but so many people who live on the coast have complained that their “cleaning” method in many areas invovles hauling in coarse sand that’s not white and just covering over the oil that’s already there. Hence the protest group that appeared in the wide shot of the second commercial. If you ask me, that’s not clean. Who wants to go lie on a beach full of buried carcinogens? If they hadn’t short-cutted the cleaning process, the commercials wouldn’t be so much of a waste.

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