What BP could have done better – a counterpoint

This is a counterpoint article to my post on BP earlier today from my friend Justin Goldsborough. Click here to see the initial post. We’d love to hear what you think.

I think the new BP ads show how slowly companies actually change and how big of a hill the company has to climb. In this case, the combination led to what someone who does marketing for BP probably thought was a genuine, smart advertising campaign. I’m sure smiles, handshakes and maybe even a fist bump or two were exchanged when these ads were first revealed inside BPs walls. But the public is not going to be so quick to smile at or shake hands with the brand that mishandled so many things in the Gulf last year, most notably the disaster itself.

Deepwater Horizon

Image - Wikipedia

BP did some things right here. Sure, the commercials are self-serving, but I now know they financially compensated some of the people whose lives and livelihoods they ruined. And BP gave about 10 seconds of each ad to the small business owner they featured in the commercials to promote their brands. That was cool. But there were also things about the ads that weren’t cool – most notably the line in each commercial you alluded to Jeff: “BP asked me to keep you informed.”

Not exactly. The line should have been written as follows: “BP paid me some money and gave me some free airtime on their commercial if I agreed to try and make them look good and their legal team, which obviously doesn’t have any understanding of public perception, made me say this line like a this-medicine-can-cause-internal-bleeding-and-you-may-even-die-if-you-take-it-but-have-a-nice-weekend line in a pharma commercial.” Of course they couldn’t say it that way in the ad because, well, the ad was only 60 seconds among other things.

In situations like this one, I always like to ask myself the “What would you do?” question. BP might tell you they took a lesson from Dominos and tried to make things right and then do an ad campaign around it. But that’s pizza. This is peoples’ lives. And Dominos dove into the listening and engaging pool head first. BP has not gone that route yet. But I digress…What could BP have done differently? Well, here are some ideas:

  • Why not give these small businesses the full 60 seconds during the commercials? Just put your BP logo in the bottom corner; kill the corny music as our friend Shonali Burke said, and let the citizens of the Gulf who had their lives changed by the oil spill tell their stories.
  • Forget the commercials and spend the advertising budget organizing community events in the Gulf. Provide the citizens an opportunity to network, tell their stories and help each other. Bring in counselors, educators and entrepreneurs who can share advice on how to rebound your business when you have to start from scratch.
  • Crowdsource. When you’ve screwed up royally and then screwed up the apology – and several subsequent apologies – royally, there’s one move you can make that will always be seen as disarming. Ask for help. I don’t care how badly someone screwed up. If they come to you and ask for help, it’s hard to go online and rip them to shreds or do so to their face. What if BP took the Dominos route on social media by building their accounts and saying they were listening? Then, what if they posted that they were setting aside part of their advertising budget for 2011 to help the families affected by the oil spill, but that they wanted some advice on the best way to help that would have the strongest impact and really make a difference?

Change is hard. Always has been, always will be. Egos are involved, people are stubborn, businesses don’t want to make another mistake while they are trying to recover from the first one. But look at the brands that rebound well from crises. Usually they are in one of two situations – 1) The company has already built up goodwill and strong consumer relationships so customers are willing to give the brand a second chance or 2) The company steps way out of its comfort zone, listens to what its customers are saying and realizes the only way to win back some credibility is to change the culture, the way they do business.

BP has taken a step – a SMALL step – in the right direction with these commercials. The brand showed it has a conscious. But so far it’s like the dad who missed his son’s high school graduation and then called to apologize and sent a check to help with tuition.  But BP, like that dad, hasn’t yet decided to change the way it lives its life, or in this case, does business. And without making a wholesale change like that, the brand will never have any kind of meaningful relationship with the public and the Gulf citizens whose lives it disrupted.

Justin joined Fleishman-Hillard Kansas City, where he specializes in digital strategy and education, in 2009. Before that, he was at Sprint for two years where he managed the company’s employee social network, Sprint Space, and led efforts to improve customer outreach via social media, specifically Twitter. He is in his fifth year on the Kansas City IABC board and is serving as president for the 2010-11 board year. Justin is a huge Bon Jovi fan and once won third place in a karaoke contest at Chicago’s John Barleycorn’s with a rousing rendition of Livin’ on a Prayer. He’s also a diehard Kansas City Royals fan, so go easy when talking baseball. Justin blogs here at Justin Case You Were Wondering.

2 Responses to What BP could have done better – a counterpoint
  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mike Garnett, JobShoots and JobShoots, Publicity News. Publicity News said: What BP could have done better – a counterpoint: This is a counterpoint article to my post on BP earlier tod… http://bit.ly/foLKvr #pr […]

  2. […] to my friend Justin Goldsborough for his take on the subject. He offers a bunch of great insight in this counter-post. What say you? Was this a good marketing tool or is it just distasteful. Enjoy this post? Share […]

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