BP has two big problems*.
The first problem is a well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico that has spilled an estimated 50 million gallons of oil in the past 48 days.
Until they fix it, nothing they do for the second problem will matter.
BP’s second problem is the story.
For almost a decade, BP has told a brand story about being the environmental leader among petroleum companies. Click over to BP’s website and you’ll find an entire section devoted to the environment. This tab talks about BP’s approach to alternative energy sources like solar, wind, and bio-fuels—and walks through how they are making the world better. BP has been sharing a similar message in their advertising for the past five years:
It’s a great message for an oil company, especially because it is very likely true. BP does spend significant resources on alternative fuels and clean technology. They have acknowledged climate change is a real problem. They are probably doing as much or more than any other oil company to develop renewable resources.
But none of that matters.
Because everything changed on the micro-level. Daily news reports of oil-covered wildlife and millions of page views for the video footage from the bottom of the sea overwrite the macro-story about environmental awareness.
It doesn’t matter why this catastrophe happened, or how many safety awards BP has won, or whether they were properly permitted.
And that story isn’t about BP’s concern for the environment, rather it’s about how BP is a villain and there’s a million gallons of oil spilling into the gulf every day.
So BP is rolling out new ads to tell their side of the story and to apologize for the disaster. This is the exact right thing to do. But it won’t change anyone’s feelings about BP. Because until the brand’s macro-story is matched by the stories told on the micro-level, consumers will not trust the company’s message.
First BP needs to cap the leak. Then they need to clean up the mess. And at that point, consumers may be willing to listen to BP talk about the environment.
This is a problem faced by thousands of companies every day (not just BP). The bank that promises they care about you but then charges horrendous fees and raises rates. Would they do that if they really cared? What about the cable company that answers the phone with an automated message promising that your call is very important to us and, oh by the way, the hold time right now is 23 minutes?
When the story you tell isn’t matched by the story your customers experience, you’ve got a problem. And until you fix it, nothing you say matters.
The oil logo in this entry was “borrowed” from David Airey’s very good Logo Design Love blog.