Corporate Eye

BP – Flooded in Oil Rather than ‘Beyond Petroleum’

bp_beyond_petroleumFor years, BP has used the “Beyond Petroleum” tagline to massage the perception of the BP brand as being one that stands for so much more than oil.  While the company has been accused of greenwashing by using that tagline, given that almost all of its revenue comes from oil-related activities, the tagline did succeed in differentiating the brand from the Exxon’s of the world.  Remember, marketing and branding is all about perceptions.  Right?

But what happens when events prove those perceptions were fabricated?

BP never claimed it wasn’t in the oil business with the Beyond Petroleum tagline, but the company did attempt to position its brand as the antithesis of big oil companies that care only about profits regardless of the negative effects their products and businesses have on the environment.

Until April 2010, BP managed to protect its brand positioning as the oil company that puts the environment first, despite previous problems.  But can BP retain that positioning now that the company caused one of the biggest oil spills in history off the coast of Louisiana?

Probably not.  However, there is more to this story than brand positioning.  Do consumers truly care where their gasoline, etc. comes from?  Will they drive out of their way to find a non-BP gas station?

Certainly, consumers care, but the truth of the matter is that there is little difference in consumers’ minds about oil company brand positioning.  All of those companies are grouped together, for the most part, in consumers’ minds.

Therefore, BP will undoubtedly survive, but it’s highly likely (and suggested) that BP go through a rebranding.  Beyond Petroleum won’t get the job done anymore.  The more interesting question from a branding perspective is whether or not there is a brand message and position that truly could differentiate an oil company from its competitors — something that would make consumers pay more than the excessive prices they already pay and make them want to drive out of their way to find a gas station that offers fuel from a specific company.

What do you think?  Can it be done?  Leave a comment and let’s discuss!

Image: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.

Branding is all about creating alignment of your companies’ business processes with its corporate culture. British Petroleum (BP) provides a case in point of a brand that got way out front of its business process and culture to produce tremendous exposure to risk.

Back in 2000, BP announced a major change in posture from “British Petroleum” to “Beyond Petroleum” and spent hundreds of millions of dollars promoting their new position. Did it have a positive impact on the company? Most assuredly the impact was positive at the time. But will the brand be damaged because of the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? Without a doubt.

If an oil company is not 100% committed to dealing with any potential catastrophic disaster, how can it contemplate building the brand before it has addressed the basics of the business? With thousands of rigs pumping oil in the Gulf today how could something as fundamental as a shut-off valve not be standard operating procedure?

Logo on Smokestacks
I was once asked by a group of senior managers at a major petroleum company if they should put their corporate logo on the smokestacks of their ships. I asked if all of their ships were double hulled? Their answer was “no.” How then could they even ask the question?

Exxon still bears the burden of the spill in Alaska more than 20 years after the Valdez ran aground. The management of BP should have learned from the Exxon spill that there must be a better way to manage disaster. There is no getting around the fact that every dead turtle, fish and bird that washes up on a Gulf Coast shore over the foreseeable future will be blamed on BP. The media and the public will be relentless on these issues.

So, how is BP’s image doing? British Petroleum became BP in the year 2000 when it developed the “Beyond Petroleum” tagline. The attached CoreBrand “Brand Power” chart illustrates the effectiveness of the tagline campaign as it helped improve BP’s Brand Power in the US among business decision makers from a score of 30 (on a 100 point scale) when the campaign was launched in 2000 to an all time high of 50 in 2008.

The decline in recent years is likely caused by industry vulnerability and the fact that BP’s current management is no longer as committed to building the value of the brand (i.e. BP has reduced corporate advertising from $75 million in 2007, $53.5 million in 2008, to $32.8 million in 2009).

The savings of a few million in advertising has already likely cost BP billions in brand equity, which has declined from $19.9 Billion in 2008 to $14.3 Billion in 2009. The industry declined more drastically over that time from an average of $13 Billion in 2008 to $7.4 Billion in 2009, which indicates again that the campaign was helpful in protecting the brand from declines in the market. BP’s Brand Power will surely erode significantly faster in the near future.

When Ford Motor Company was spending billions of dollars to promote, “Quality as Job #1” we recommended that they would be better served by putting those billions into building better quality cars. Ford made that change and today is a far better company with a brighter future. Moreover, their advertising will be more effective.

Understanding one’s brand in relation to its business and culture is critical for allocating budgets properly. More importantly, it should be a way of life for the management of any corporation.

Hi James – thank you for this fascinating response to Susan’s post. I’m heading across to see the Brand Power chart now.

What do you make of their crisis management approach on the corporate website?

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