A Disaster… In More Ways Than One

With the worst natural disaster in our country’s history now more than 90 days old (and counting), I started thinking about how BP and its major U.S. competitors are using marketing tactics to respond.

It may have taken them longer than many would like, but BP has revamped their entire marketing presence to address what they are doing in the Gulf.  From their television spots to their press releases, website, Twitter and RSS feeds, Facebook and Flickr accounts, and even their YouTube channel, BP is now using all their available outlets to try and keep people informed about what they are doing to stop the leak and repair the damage.

In the old days, if a company had a crisis, they would control the media and the conversation with a traditional PR effort, and their competitors would be silent (e.g., the airline industry after a crash).  But the proliferation of social media (and BP’s slow marketing response) has made it next to impossible for them to control the dialogue and get in front of the conversation.  Consider this:

  • Facebook: “Boycott BP” and “BP Sucks” pages on Facebook have more than a million combined fans, while the real BP Facebook page only has about 34,000.
  • Twitter: There are more than 185,000 followers on the main anti-BP page (BPGlobalPR) on Twitter, while the real page has only 16,800 followers.

Social media can really bite a company in the butt in times of disaster if they don’t have a plan, don’t say the right things, or don’t act quickly enough.

From a competitive standpoint, it surprised me that I haven’t seen any television spots, nor could I find one thing about the disaster on the corporate or brand websites for ExxonMobil, Chevron or Texaco.  Shell was the only brand that even mentioned it on their site, and that was only one buried link to an article that speaks about the support and assets they have been providing to BP.  They also seem to be the only brand heavily promoting the work they are doing to tap into alternative sources of energy.

But, as you can imagine, that hasn’t stopped people from making angry posts about all these brands as well, and even rehashing their prior wrongdoings and mishaps.  BP’s competitors look to be hiding their heads in the sand vs. responding and engaging in the conversation.

What do you think of the marketing response from BP and its competitors?  What would you be doing if you were the CMO of one of these brands?

— Stephen Weinstein, EVP, Director of Account Management


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1 Comment

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One response to “A Disaster… In More Ways Than One

  1. Hi Neph,

    About ExxonMobil and the other major players — I don’t think they want their names associated with the disaster. Who knows — maybe some of their offshore wells were among those whose drilling efforts were stopped. Also, these companies probably have JVs with BP (the Prudhoe Bay Alaska pipeline project, for example). For example, what can Exxon say without detractors coming back to remind the world about the Valdez spill?
    Regarding BP — they are finally trying to regain some respect, as you indicate. I guess it’s a start and necessary, but has barely made a dent at this point as far as I’m concerned. Fast forward 3 years. Will this effort pay off? If those at BP and Kilgannon didn’t think so, they wouldn’t be doing it.

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