What now for BP’s brand?

bpWhen a sunken oil rig and an oil spill that is predicted to rival or exceed the Exxon Valdez is front page news around the world and on every major news website, then the damage to your company and to your brand is pretty much a sure thing.

For the past few decade or so BP has been spending a boat load of cash trying to position itself as an energy company for the future, not an oil company of the past. On April 20 that all came down in an explosion of twisted metal that left the Emperor standing naked on his oil soaked shoreline.

Their stock is falling, the list of people who are likely to hit them with lawsuits is growing daily and that is on top of the massive costs of cleaning up one of the most ecologically fragile environments in North America.

But outside of that what is the likely cost to BP’s brand?

Once again we see the results of trying to be something you are not come home to roost, as one of the highest profile green-washed brands is shown for what it is. But the signs were always there for those who cared to look beyond the happy sunburst logo and ads bearing wind farms.

BP is an oil company first and foremost. Scratch the surface even a little bit and it was pretty easy to see. Their website boldly states – “we find oil and natural gas, extract it from hard to reach places, move it from sea to land…” Under the What We Do section “generating low carbon energy” is the second to last menu item, right above the last item on the list “working responsibly”. Pretty much says it all!

Of course, the rig that sank wasn’t owned by BP, nor were the workers killed in the initial explosion BP employees – both belonged to the world’s largest offshore drilling contractor Transocean. But make no mistake, outsourced operations or not, this is BP’s oil spill and they will wear the costs.

Could BP have foreseen the problem? Maybe not. Drilling for oil is an inherently dirty and risky business and accidents are inevitable. The long-term cost to BP’s brand is also inevitable – a spill of this magnitude and impact is not soon forgotten. Positioning themselves as anything other than the oil company they have always been is now out of the question.

Will this even deter investors, or even cause investors to pull out of the company? Only time will tell on that front, as the true costs of this spill to BP will take years to be known.

Sadly if “working responsibly” had been a bit higher on their list of priorities who knows if the machinery failure that caused the whole mess would have happened at all.

So what can other businesses learn from this disaster? No matter how much money you spend on your brand, how much you want people to believe it, unless you support it with what you do, it will eventually be shown for the sham that it is.

See you next week.

(Image courtesy of Merrimam Associates).

Michel Hogan is a Brand Advocate. Through her work with Brandology here in Australia and in the United States, she helps organisations recognise who they are and align that with what they do and say, to build more authentic and sustainable brands. She also publishes the Brand thought leadership blog – Brand Alignment.


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