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Big Orange Slide

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

Unnatural brand disasters

June 17, 2010 by Miranda Voth

Illustration by Brian Ross

The 2001 British Petroleum brand redesign was a big step in the right eco-direction. Realizing that petroleum had become increasingly associated with evil things, the company condensed its company name to BP, and adopted the tagline “Beyond Petroleum.”

Naturally, the logo underwent a transformation too. The green and yellow “Helios” is intended to represent the “progressive, responsible, innovative and performance driven” aspects of the company, and its deep concern for finding energy that is “affordable, secure and doesn’t damage the environment.”

At the same time, BP was doing something many oil and energy companies were not: advertising. To tout its progressive and eco-friendly initiatives, humourous ads aired during FIFA and other campaigns to spread the word about their green programs. All around they had a good thing going, considering the nature of the company. Until now.

Since April 20, 2010, oil has consistently poured from a “sea floor oil gusher” into the Gulf of Mexico following the explosion of the BP Deepwater Horizon rig. BP, who had worked so hard for their relatively clean image, is now a burdened brand with the colourful title of “largest offshore oil spill in US history.”

For weeks, BP wasn’t transparent about the damage this error would cause to the environment. And after weeks of downplaying and denying, BP finally acknowledged what it had done.

After 45 days of oil spewing into the Gulf, BP CEO, Tony Hayward went on Fox News in an effort to regain the world’s trust in BP. Rather than coming across as sincere, his abject apologies for BP’s role in the environmental disaster, and its subsequent ability to clean up the Gulf, seemed to lack genuine empathy. And in an age where any communications misstep ricochets for months, Hayward’s closing remarks went viral: “There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I’d like my life back.”


Let’s take a step back, BP, and consider what TO DO and NOT TO DO in a communications crisis. Three suggestions:

#1: Take responsibility for mistakes made. It’s the only way to showcase a responsible brand.
It was reported BP ordered clean-up volunteers and workers not to wear respirators on site because they created a bad visual in the media. A month later, workers on the BP spill cleanup duty are reporting flu-like symptoms. Hayward claimed the symptoms were from food poisoning. Clearly, they all ate the fish on the flight out there.

#2: Don’t downplay the situation.
BP shut down journalists from taking photos of the devastation as well as tried to stop satire Twitter accounts (@BPGlobalPR) from tweeting with BP’s name. Bad, bad, bad.

From BP to Tiger Woods, it’s been proven time and time again that the truth will out eventually. Lying will not keep your stocks and liabilities from falling apart.

#3: Show, don’t tell.
Give journalists access to see the clean-up plan in action rather than shutting them out. In a lose-lose situation, the best thing BP could have done for the brand is show the steps it’s taking to improve the situation beyond a blithe press release.

Regardless of the many huge and unforgivable mistakes BP made in the last month two months, it had the chance to turn bad press into a slightly more positive showing of their efforts, but didn’t.

The questions I’ll pose to you is:

Do you think companies should have a communication plan in place for disasters?

11 Comments on "Unnatural brand disasters"

  • Andrea
    June 17, 2010 @ 10:11 am

    Great post!
    BP is definitely trying to “downplay” the catastrophic effects of this spill. And Hayward “wants his life back?” ARe you kidding me?!

    Companies should definitely have a communications plan in place for disasters, and hopefully others will take example from this disaster and NOT follow in BP’s footsteps.

  • Colleen
    June 17, 2010 @ 11:07 am

    Great Post – let’s bring education to the masses…BP may be able to cap the media, but every individual voice has a platform that we can use to create pressure for BP to perform. We are not helpless in this, our unified “voice” will demand action !!

  • Trista Yard
    June 17, 2010 @ 11:12 am

    The sad thing about this situation is that this won’t be the last time it happens. BP messed up, they caused irreparable damage and have yet to make any sincere apology. But until we Americans realize the real price of our dependency on oil we cannot simply blame BP and then jump in our suv that gets 15 mpg and drive in the carpool lane to work 5 days a week.

    Yes companies should have a plan for dealing with disasters. But more importantly, they should have plans in place to insure that disasters (that are otherwise completely avoidable) never occur.

  • Karin
    June 17, 2010 @ 11:57 am

    i like you.

  • Miranda Voth
    June 17, 2010 @ 12:02 pm

    @Trista Yard: I fully agree with your comment. Since this blog is about the brands I didn’t want to get into my usual rant of “THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN DRILLING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GULF IN THE FIRST PLACE!” But we all need to take action in this situation.

    Causing awareness is just the beginning.

  • Tweets that mention Unnatural brand disasters « Big Orange Slide --
    June 17, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jacoub Bondre, Andrea B. Andrea B said: Great Grip blog post by @running_cloud on on brands and disaster plans [...]

  • Ashley
    June 18, 2010 @ 10:32 am

    We all know that disasters like this one could have been avoided, yet due to capitalist greed, generations of humans and wildlife will suffer from this great oil spill. It is important for all major companies to have communication plans in place not only for when disaster strikes, but also give us updates on their progress before something bad even occurs. Offshore drilling and oil rigs are very much alien terms to the general public. We have the right to know what is going on and how we can be affected IF a disaster takes place. Perhaps if people understood the truth about oil companies we would work harder at protesting their drilling.

    Many wonder why Aboriginal peoples in Canada’s north protest the drilling and piping for oil….they have the right idea, they understand the repercussions and when an oil spill occurs we can not go back and fix the damage that has occurred.

  • Dave Hamilton
    June 18, 2010 @ 1:41 pm

    I’m not disputing BPs culpability, or the terrible, terrible environmental cost of their greed and/or carelessness. But I do scratch my head at protests (in the literal sense) against offshore drilling. The real line of protest needs to come via a shift in consumer behaviour. Blaming the oil companies for offshore drilling stops short of the real offender and the real offender is us. We demand cheap apparel and hard goods (shipped from China mostly). We love to drive, (both as transportation and for status) and year after year we itch to jump on planes bound for Europe, Costa Rica, Cuba… the list goes on. The world doesn’t buy oil, it buys things and experiences which oil enables. The more urgent protest movement needs to happen at the cash register. The real placard is your debit card!

  • Liz
    June 18, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

    I fully concur that we have a responsibility to manage our consumption and be aware that our desire for cheap goods comes at a cost, both environmentally and culturally.

    In this case though, I have to ask where the regulatory oversight was? We elect governments and entrust them to put in place effective legislation to ensure disasters such as this don’t occur.

    This is but another example of a preventable situation that could have been avoided had there been stringent rules in place.

    A vote is the other placard we all have to guard against corporate arrogance, trusting of course that we hold those we elect accountable and responsible when that guardianship fails.

  • Dave
    June 21, 2010 @ 9:45 am

    @Liz: “We,” (as Canadians) definitely elect governments and entrust them to implement effective legislation. But I’m not sure if Americans do. At least not in any form of convincing majority. More and better regulatory would be better for sure. But we are talking about a country in this instance whose population votes for the anti-regulatory Republican party at a rate of roughly 50% in any given election, and now touts something called a Tea Party movement, in reaction to what “we,” would see as perfectly logical and progressive legislation. Crazy as this sounds, fewer trips to Walmart may be the most expedient (and only) course of action for the rest of us.

  • herman
    June 24, 2010 @ 9:09 am

    Pinpointing BP’s Pitfalls: Eight Ways to Reconnect After a Disaster

    Read the full article here:

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