I know I am in danger of becoming a BP-bore, but I am not the only one with an unhealthy obsession with oil companies and the way they operate. There was a fascinating piece earlier this week in the New York Times (reprinted in Truthout) by John Kenney who worked on the BP advertising campaign “beyond petroleum”.
Writes Kenney: “ For some men, it’s cars, a sports team or watching “The Godfather” over and over. For me, it’s oil companies. They fascinate me. Their size, their power, their reach”.
He continues that “six years ago I helped create BP’s current advertising campaign, the man-in-the-street television commercials. I can’t take credit for changing the company’s name from ‘British Petroleum’ to ‘beyond petroleum’ (lower case is cooler); my boss at the time came up with it”.
He says as part of the advertising campaign they interviewed people in the street. Instead of the public walking away “people stopped. They talked. They were intrigued and passionate and intelligent and a little angry. They understood that oil companies simply deliver a product. Yet – and I think this has to do with their size and profit – people often expected something more from them than they did of other large industries”.
On top of the interviews “We did print ads too. The same way. Real people, real quotes as headlines that challenged BP and the industry. No oil company – few companies at all – had ever spoken like this, confronting the debate so frankly. They liked it.”
Back then, six years ago, Kenney fell for the hype. “I believed wholeheartedly in BP’s message, that we could go – or at least work toward going – beyond petroleum”.
But now he says, after a cold dose of reality like the shut-down at Prudhoe Bay, “I guess ‘beyond petroleum’ is just advertising. It’s become mere marketing – perhaps it always was – instead of a genuine attempt to engage the public in the debate or a corporate rallying cry to change the paradigm. Maybe I’m naïve”.
He concludes “Think of it. Going beyond petroleum. The best and brightest, at a company that can provide practically unlimited resources, trying to find newer, smarter, cleaner ways of powering the world. Only they didn’t go beyond petroleum. They are petroleum. The problem there is that ‘are petroleum’ just isn’t a great tagline”.