Posts Tagged 'BP branding'

BP on sustainability – or – the past is always present

One of the things I have learned about the internet is that the past is never past.  My daughter and my step-children are able to Google me and find some of my old short stories and other fiction.  [By the way, you’ll find it under R.C. Ringer.  That was the name Gordon Lish bestowed upon me when publishing my work.]

While looking for something about gardening, I came across a speech from BP.  It was made by Peter Southerland the vice chairman back in 1999.  Here’s an eerie excerpt:

We are not a ‘charity’.

It is not our role to clean up the environment. Our environmental responsibilities are inherent in our ‘long term’ goals. Our standards and values mean we don’t poison streams and damage the atmosphere. Because we realise we are not just trying to make a quick killing, we’re there to build permanent relationships.

Some companies may disagree with this strategy. They may say that it’s more important to focus on the short-term rewards for the shareholders, and deal with the social and political fallout when it’s absolutely necessary.

Given the expectations we now face, at BP Amoco we think the pursuit of short-term goals would be foolish. Remember the corporation that realised that asbestos was poisonous, and tried to cover the problem up. The more they denied the problem, the more serious it became, until the consequences nearly resulted in the extinction of that company.

excerpt from speech by Peter Southerland, Vice Chairman of BP

A generation of MBA students will be writing case studies on the BP Gulf disaster, the role of corporate social responsibility and prudent communications.  The matching of words and actions is easy on paper but in the real world there are many conflicting forces that are pulling on a company like BP.  There are many audiences to whom it is beholden.  And those audiences have conflicting needs.

So the story of BP, the narrative of BP, is taking an unexpected turn.  The words of the past are there and companies will be asked to live up to them or to explain them or to deny them.  That is the blessing and the curse of the Internet.

BP, Toyota and the Gulf spill

A tale of two companies in the middle of a reputation crisis — Toyota and BP.  Two different companies with every different approaches to the damage that is being done to their brand by external events (or, in the case of Toyota, internal events.

Media post has a story on this.  Toyota is more or less keeping its head down.  BP is being pretty active at outreach.  Just look at the differences in the home pages.  BP has the Gulf story front and center.  Toyota has the recall 3 links into the sites.

The irony is that the Gulf spill may benefit Toyota, raising awareness of the environmental and oil issues that will contribute to selling more hybrids and other energy efficient cars.

Toyota homepage

Toyota homepage

Toyota safety page

Toyota safety page

BP Homepage

BP Homepage

BP Homepage

BP second page

BP second page

Both companies were at the forefront in addressing environmental issues in their communications.  In BP’s case it seems to be making them into a larger target — at least in the short run.  For Toyota it seems to have helped insulate their branding from more damage.

Greenwashing

Is the success of BP’s “beyond petroleum” branding is now turning into a liability for the company?  It certainly was a bold move when BP underwent their rebranding.  Now, with the Gulf spill the most recent and most visible environmental problem for the company, the BP logo is beginning to look like a green target to some people.

Just see at what fun Greenpeace are having at BP’s expense:

Greenpeace's BP Logo Contest

Greenpeace's BP Logo Contest

In fact, they are even inviting design professionals to re-design the BP logo.

I’m not so sure that there is a brand moral here.  The BP branding was brilliantly conceived, designed and executed.  It is the reality of the world that is messy.  Did the branding make BP a bigger target than they otherwise would be?  I doubt it.  Look at how the Valdez incident shaped Exxon’s image for more than a decade.  The magnitude of the spill overwhelms all else, sweeping away all of the good work, goodwill and honest efforts at improvement.

The wrong lesson would be to say that companies should not use their branding to help improve their reputation around environmental, sustainability and ecology issues.  Over the next 12 months we’ll learn if the charges of “Greenwashing” will discourage other companies from moving ahead with their own efforts to improve their environmental standing.

What is our opinion?


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