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Big Orange Slide

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

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?

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