Wednesday, July 25, 2012

British Petroleum's Branding Without Basis

With the Opening Ceremony for the London games this week, brands sporting their Olympic tie-ins are in full campaign mode.   A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Coca-Cola's "active lifestyle" Olympic platform, questioning the believability of connecting a sugary soft drink to healthy lifestyle position.     

This week, I was struck by the British Petroleum's Olympic campaign here in America.  The new  campaign profiles the hard work and determination of the athletes who will be competing in the games, who are then graced with support from BP in the ad.  Although the ads share an interesting story of the athlete, there isn't an authentic connection to the oil company.  Naturally, BP's strategy is to connect their brand to the feel-good stories of Olympians; however, such tactics are a lazy attempt at brand marketing.  That's becoming a predictable trend for oil companies who are resigned to the idea that they sell a commodity. Last year, I questioned the brand marketing of ExxonMobil, who runs a similar bogus campaign in support of math and science education.

The problem I have is that both campaigns are irrelevant to the brand.  They're strategic public relations moves designed to make consumers feel better about the brand as opposed to convincing them with the merit of their product.  Neither the Olympic platform or the education platform are essential brand propositions that have anything to with differentiating their oil (or the delivery and sale of it). 

Differentiation should be the focus of their ads, especially since the product is increasing relegated to commodity status.  A commodity product negates the purpose of a brand.  It's essentially becomes generic.

There are a lot of ways oil companies could differentiate their brand beyond a price point a couple cents cheaper than their neighbor.  The origin of the fuel, the quality/cleanliness service stations, how their unique chemical make up and additives are good for your engine or even number of convenient locations to fill up at.  I would suggest environmental impact, however, considering the public environmental catastrophes that companies have on their records, a campaign of this nature would be pushing the bounds of believability.

Perhaps British Petroleum could build on this by continuing their post-Gulf of Mexico oil spill campaign.  The company did a lot of environmental branding work before the spill.  After the spill, they apologized and then were quick to tout that the Gulf region is back and tourism is booming once again.  They should go a several steps beyond saying sorry.

The rig that exploded was improperly inspected- not enough Federal inspectors.  However, maybe BP could develop a position of being the safest oil company.  They could hire independent inspectors to oversee all of their operations and tout that in their commercials.  Their positions would be supported with hard facts, as the best positions are.  

Oil companies have many disbelievers and even detractors passionate enough to deface their ads.  Thus, convincing people of the contrary (or just getting them consider it) will require nothing less than facts backing a unique and meaningful marketing position. 

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