What a difference a summer — and $93 million in advertising — can make.
Back in June, as BP oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico, it didn’t take a market research expert to figure out how much trouble the company was in. Anyone could drive by their neighborhood BP stations, left eerily vacant as consumers sought their gas elsewhere.
Part driven by an organized boycott, and part simply due to general disgust with the company, for a time no one was buying BP fuel. It got so bad that a small chain of convenience stores in Pennsylvania stopped selling BP brand gasoline.
Eventually, BP’s flood in the Gulf stopped, but the company had unleashed another torrent in the form of TV and radio spots featuring folksy and earnest-sounding company employees who promised listeners that the company was taking “full responsibility” for the clean-up of the Gulf Coast.
The ads pat BP on the back for its $20 billion claims fund to help those on the Gulf Coast left unemployed due to the spill. Of course, the commercials fail to mention that the company only established the fund under pressure from the White House.
The spots also promise that BP will stay in the Gulf region as long as it takes to “make things right,” which isn’t entirely true given that the fine print in the company’s agreement with the federal goverment contains a “scheduled expiration date” of April 30, 2016, with limited opportunities for the independent trustees of the fund to extend the deadline beyond this date.
The agreement also provides no mechanism to require BP to provide additional financing if the initial $20 billion proves to be inadequate to meet all legitimate damage claims.
But why quibble, right?
What’s amazing isn’t that BP reportedly spent $93 million between April and the end of July, or more than triple what the company spent on advertising in the same period last year, on selling its gauzy, feel-good affirmations to the American public.
It’s that it’s working. An Associated Press poll indicates that approval for the company’s handling of the oil spill more than doubled from June to August. The villains have become the heroes in fewer than 12 weeks.
It’s shocking, although maybe it shouldn’t be, that BP was able to change public opinion so dramatically, and so quickly, with really such little substance to back them up.
Democrats like Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida are undoubtedly right that BP is “overdoing it” with its heavy-handed PR campaign, but really what they should be doing is asking for is the phone number of BP’s ad agency.
If congressional Democrats could change the public’s perception of them in a comparable way, Nancy Pelosi certainly would still be holding her speaker’s gavel come January.