Creative thinking that delivers results

08 Jul

BP Oil – A Beginner’s Guide to Damaging your Brand

Category: Branding

Often times when we think of how businesses and brands fail, we think of poor products or products that no longer meet the needs of their customers, poor customer service, too much competition, or issues with pricing and profitability. Rarely do we think that brands can fall prey to bad public relations (PR) tactics and strategies.

However, BP is a classic example of a business that failed to have an adequate plan in place to deal with the challenges all businesses eventually face. The fallout from the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates how easily a business can take its eye off the ball, thereby losing perspective on the real issues it is facing.

What BP ultimately failed to do was put in place an adequate “crisis management strategy” – either before or after the environmental disaster. This term refers to the process by which an organization deals with a major unpredictable event that threatens to harm it, its stakeholders or the general public.

Missing the mark –Underestimating public sentiment

So where did BP go wrong? One can point to a number of issues that proved to be their undoing. Arguably one of their more glaring oversights was their vehement and ongoing denials – at least early on – about the severity of the catastrophe. Coupled with CEO Tony Hayward’s flippant and condescending attitude, arrogance and indifference to his many stakeholders (including his own shareholders) portrays a company and CEO completely detached from reality and public opinion.

 BP’s complete disregard for public sentiment, political influence and the importance of corporate responsibility in this day and age is inexcusable. By failing to be truthful and honest with the American government and the American people, BP has portrayed itself as the mean, nasty neighbourhood bully everyone despises – and fears. They have alienated themselves from these groups, making any collaborative solution a virtual impossibility.

Getting it Right

So what could BP have done differently to lessen the eventual public and government backlash? Acting in a sincere manner by showing concern for the problem and taking ownership for it would have been a good start. Providing timely, substantive and accurate information around their efforts to cap the oil well and resolve the problem would also have been a positive move.

What every business should learn from this PR disaster is that in this era of social media and the internet, poor communication practices that intentionally try to deceive the public can have dangerous ramifications – particularly if you are called out and shown to have knowingly misled people.

Bad news travels very quickly and over a wide geography nowadays, making it much easier for negative PR to touch thousands or even millions of people in no time.  Businesses that are reactive (as opposed to proactive) in their approach to problem resolution face the proverbial uphill battle – with a mob of angry villagers chasing them with pitchforks in hand! A more honest and upfront approach from the get go would have better insulated BP’s reputation, saved considerable effort, and greatly reduced the negative impact on its brand.

 I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, so feel free to respond with your comments to