Did you notice? BP, the much-loathed, oil-spilling villainous brand of 2010, spent big bucks on the Olympics trying to slip back into our good graces. Its ads featured black and white cameos of USA athletes from both the Olympic and Paralympic teams. Perhaps the most insiprational image was the archer with no arms who holds the bow with his foot and releases the arrow with his mouth. BP presented the athletes and its implicit support using its sun-styled graphics and a voiceover saying, “Across America, we’re all committed to Team USA.” The spots closed with a new tagline: “Fueling the Future.”
YouGov (www.brandindex.com) conducted a Brand Index survey during the Games that looked at how viewers rated brands at the beginning, the middle and the end of the Olympics. BP was the only rated brand that started the games in negative territory, and while it stayed slightly negative overall, its score improved by 5.7 percent. Other winners were VISA with a 17 percent improvement and McDonald’s with a 3.1 percent jump. Losers included BMW, Holiday Inn and GE.
BP’s efforts, in the Olympics and in the months following the aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, show what a prodigal brand can do to rehabilitate its image. The YouGov survey demonstrates that, while BP may not be all the way back, it is clearly making progress.
It’s easy to be cynical about BP’s attempts to restore its brand, and there was significant commentary to that effect on its Facebook page and on YouTube during the Games. Yet, among the negative commentary were supporters defending the company’s efforts to correct the damage from the spill and providing some sense that BP is not just the cold, foreign oil company in the black hat.
So what has BP done right to get back to break even, at least as far as YouGov’s Brand Index appears to indicate? Within the context of branding it has made several smart moves:
Delivering a huge mea culpa—once the enormity of the spill became abundantly clear (and, yes, BP appeared slow to recognize or admit it in the first days of the spill), it publicly committed large sums of money to clean-up, restoration and reimbursement to those affected by the spill. Its spending was widespread, even helping tourist bureaus attract visitors back to the cleaned-up beaches. A key action was buying significant amounts of paid media to tell its story, which helped balance the negatives that continued to appear in the news media.
Humanizing the brand—one of the best moves BP made was to create personal profiles of its employees who were leading the restoration response teams. They were presented as nice, hard-working Americans with families who were committed to fixing the mess. These people were impossible to dislike, even for those who continued to despise the brand. BP’s paid media continued to feature the positive side of the clean-up and showed inspiring stories of perseverance and recovery.
Change the narrative—BP got lucky that two years later the Olympics were held in its home country, giving it the chance to use patriotism to change the subject and refocus its message, on both sides of the pond. Separate feel-good campaigns in both the US and Britain featured the home country’s athletes and closed with the same tagline “Fueling the Future.” The implication of both campaigns was that “future” referred as much to developing athletes (and in Britain, supporting the arts and local communities), as it did to supplying energy needs. The new tag provided an almost seamless replacement for the “BP: Beyond Petroleum” slogan that took on new and unwanted meaning after the spill.
Of course, it helps to have deep pockets to get your message out to the world. But BP is working hard to bring its brand back from the depths of most-hated status. They presented themselves as a company willing to step up, take the blame, and fix the damage they caused. The question is whether the public will accept it and move on. But if the YouGov survey is any indication, it would appear that BP is headed in the right direction.