BP's tarnished image

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BP is doing its best to save its global image in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill. Anchor Marco Werman speaks about BP's tarnished image with Suzanne Vranica of the Wall Street Journal

MARCO WERMAN: You might have seen one of BP's ads in a newspaper or on TV this past weekend. The energy giant is apologizing for the spill and pledging to clean up the mess. The ads show that BP is also trying to clean up its image. Don't laugh. It can be done. Exxon's image hit rock bottom in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound. But the corporation didn't merely weather the storm, today it's America's most profitable company. Suzanne Vernitsa is a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. Do you think BP now has a world wide image problem Suzanne? Or is its brand tarnished primarily in the U.S.?

SUZANNE VERNITSA: I would think if you live on Mars, its image up there is also taking a beating. The fact of the matter is there's no such thing anymore as sort of a localized crisis. You saw clear evidence of this when BP's first phase of this image repair job took to the web. Obviously they got their agency Ogilvie and Mather involved to make sure that their YouTube channel was giving out all the information they could, videos of their CEO talking to the public, so nothing is a local crisis anymore. So obviously their image is taking a beating from every ocean and every continent around the world.

WERMAN: Explain exactly what they've done with YouTube.

VERNITSA: The first thing that they thought of, which a lot of companies tend to forget or are not as familiar with using is the web and they use social networking to get the message out really quickly. A lot of noise has been made about the print ads, but if you go on YouTube and you put in BP, they basically took over a channel on YouTube and made it the BP channel and immediately put up videos, newsfeeds, interviews from the CEO, every interview and every piece of content that they had addressing the situation. Then they rolled out all the print ads and everything else.

WERMAN: I guess there's some ethical considerations there with BP acquiring its own YouTube channel, but even more complex is the idea that they're dictating search terms with Google and Yahoo. Explain how that works.

VERNITSA: Well what they can do is then start to buy search terms so that when you put in, and I have not figured out if they've done that and we probably will start to see them buying up search terms, when people search in Google "BP", their results will come up or at least people will be more exposed to the message. That's just PR 101, especially in this day and age.

WERMAN: I'm wondering if some countries that have really quick on their toes environmental activists whether BP is suffering more intense blow back in any countries outside the U.S.

VERNITSA: Despite the years of advertising, their message of green companies, there is already a very sour taste in people's mouths from every country, so I think it's difficult for any of these oil giants to step out of this. That's why you're seeing the opinion scores and the reputation scores for all of the oil industries sinking right now. So it's a global phenomenon. It's not going to be limited to the U.S. Obviously it's worse in the U.S. and as you move further and further away, it dilutes. But if you look at BP as a U.K. based company and the fact is there's no way that they're not monitoring this situation, how it's affecting their brand world wide. They actually have the tools to do that.

WERMAN: In 2000 BP spent hundreds of millions of dollars to retool its image using slogans like "BP - Beyond Petroleum". Did that campaign work in terms of making consumers see BP as green?

VERNITSA: It very much did work. They invested hundreds of millions in dollars in this and if you look at some of the studies that we've seen, there's a big ad conglomerate named Omnicom in the U.S., basically they have data that says they are like the 83rd largest brand in the world, and they've done a pretty good job getting that tag line "beyond petroleum" and this green idea stuck. When you're putting this much money, hundreds of millions of dollars into a brand message it works and the fact of the matter is it heats up every once in a while about green washing, but they've done a good job in the general market getting this message through. Let's be sure, BP will probably have to dump "beyond petroleum" at this point. In fact, I have sources that are saying that they're working on what happens next. They're going to have to scrap that entire campaign and come up with a new position for this company.

WERMAN: Suzanne Vernitsa will the Wall Street Journal, thank you very much.

VERNITSA: Thank you for having me.