BP will go down in history for a number of reasons. The company will forever be known as being responsible for the largest oil spill in US history, for leaving hundreds of people without jobs in the Gulf region, for killing an incalculable amount of wildlife, and for altering the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico for decades to come. It’s a severe understatement to say that the company’s reputation has been tainted in the last few months. BP knows this, and they are on damage control. But the frantic efforts to repair their image have of course come with some intense advertising.
While BP has published and broadcasted a variety of different advertising since April 20, one particular advertising campaign seems particularly long running and wide spread. The advertisement’s title is “Making This Right” and lists seven subjects concerning the oil spill. These include: beaches, claims, cleanup, economic investment, environmental restoration, health and safety and wildlife. As part of one large campaign, BP publishes full-page ads focusing on one of these seven categories for a period of time and then switches to another. For example, the beaches version of the advertisement includes a large color picture of people cleaning up the beaches in the Gulf, a paragraph explaining this effort and a telephone number for people to call should they see oil on the beach. The last sentence says, “We may not always be perfect, but we will make this right.”
After seeing this advertisement run practically every other day in several major newspapers, Greenpeace became curious about how much BP was paying to run these large ads so frequently. We began collecting the advertisements throughout the month of June from three major newspapers: The New York Times, USA Today and The Washington Post. We kept track of how many times the ad appeared and whether or not it was in color or black and white. When June ended, we began making calls to these publications to find out how much it was costing the oil giant. After getting estimates from advertising executives and looking at their advertising rate cards online, we found that BP had spent over $5.6 million in one month on advertising in three papers.
Kate Sheppard, a journalist for Mother Jones, used Greenpeace’s total as the basis for a story, which ran earlier this month. In her article, Sheppard also brought to light that BP often also has the option of choosing where their advertisements are printed in the paper, so they can easily place the large advertisements next to a story about the spill; a commonly used, deceptive advertising practice.
$5.6 million is an astounding amount, but a drop in the bucket to the third largest energy company in the world. However, its important to note that the total we calculated is only for one month and only for three papers. Additionally, we discovered that the Washington Post had a bulk rate discount, meaning that they got cut a break.
The real total that has been spent on all advertising since the disaster occurred is many more times the amount that we found. In the end, it will certainly be interesting to see how much it will take to repair a reputation with such a deep scar. However, it might be safe to say that even the largest color ads couldn’t fix what’s already been done.
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