brand

Hey, oil companies. Stop using advertising to tell us you don’t suck.


From a public relations standpoint, oil companies have it tough these days. The price of gas in the United States is hovering between $3.50 – $4.00 a gallon while oil companies continue to report record profits. Environmental troubles also continue, with the most recent example being an oil spill off the coast of Brazil courtesy of Chevron (where profits doubled in the just reported quarter to $7.83 billion).

It was against this backdrop that I saw the following Chevron advertisement appear on my television set last week:

This is one incredibly tone-deaf advertisement. It actually made me angry.

Articulate, neatly-coiffed, and impeccably-dressed Chevron spokesperson “talks to us straight” as she addresses the concerns of a blue collar everyman. And by the end of 30 seconds, she’s convinced us that, hey, wow, we really are saying the same thing, aren’t we?

No.

After seeing the ad, I went and did a bit of research into the campaign. Surely I wasn’t the only person who found this to be patronizing and inauthentic…

As it turns out, the initial ads first appeared about this time last year, and before the campaign had even launched it had already been dramatically spoofed. Watch the following video or read this New York Times article if you want to hear the whole story.

In fact, the anti-Chevron campaign that this series of advertisements spawned seems to be more powerful than the original campaign (and probably cost millions of dollars less to execute). For example, check out this website, which features over 200 fake print ads based on the campaign. There were also many spoofs of the ads themselves, like this one:

Which brings me to two questions:

1) Why the heck is Chevron still running this campaign?

2) More generally, why do oil companies like Chevron, BP (which spent $93 million on advertising during the height of the gulf oil spill), and Exxon keep wasting their money on advertising campaigns like this?

Advertising is the wrong medium for big oil. When an industry already viewed as disingenuous uses a medium to communicate a message that is also viewed by most people as disingenuous, what do you get?

A double dose of inauthenticity. And very little impact for the money spent, I would guess. So what advice would I give the oil companies on where they should spend their advertising dollars instead?

I’d let Esse Quam Videri (which means, “To be rather than to seem to be” and is the motto of my home state of North Carolina) be the guide.

Rather than spending money seeming to be better corporate citizens, spend that same exact amount of money actually becoming better citizens. Spend the money preventing oil spills. Or making things right for those you’ve already hurt. Or begin a dialog with citizens to learn their concerns and let them share their ideas.

But don’t advertise.

I’m afraid there are no shortcuts to building a positive brand reputation. You actually have to do positive stuff.

Those who chose to invest in perception rather than reality in an Internet-connected world, where everyone has a voice and everyone can impact a brand’s image, should understand that this:

will never be heard over this:

So oil companies, please. Stop using advertising to try to convince us you are something you aren’t. Instead, use the money to make yourselves better, and, over time, with enough good work and progress, you might end up becoming brands we can trust again.

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.

Discussion

5 thoughts on “Hey, oil companies. Stop using advertising to tell us you don’t suck.

  1. Well said. This advice is not only for oil companies but all those with beautiful adverts but woeful products and services. The world has gone virtual so people can no longer be fooled for too long.
    The disheartening thing about the oil companies’ fat advert spend however is that they cause millions the loss of their livelihood and self-worth; the resources spent on adverts by these companies can be put to the right : STOP POLLUTING THE ENVIRONMENT AND DEPLETING PEOPLE’S ECONOMIES.

    Posted by maria ahimie | November 20, 2011, 5:08 pm
  2. “A double dose of inauthenticity”, hah! When you’re making obscene amounts of money in an oligopoly I guess you have to do something with the profits.

    Of course I feel absolutely the same way about the insurance industry. Those adverts trying to make GEICO, Nationwide and State Farms look cool actually make me quite nauseous. Except for the Allstate Mayhem commercials. Those ARE sort of funny…

    Posted by RonW | November 20, 2011, 5:18 pm
  3. so patronizing…

    Posted by Matt Sharper | November 27, 2011, 3:21 pm
  4. My sense is that these ads were intended for shareholders. Heavily-subsidized legacy industries are less concerned with public perception and more concerned with shareholders, or they wouldn’t be doing the things they are doing. Ad campaigns like this are a default (albeit anachronistic) response to shareholders’ expectation to respond. Efficacy of strategy is not the point.

    Posted by Sandy Maxey | November 28, 2011, 6:12 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Hey, I Wrote a Book!

The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World

Available now in print and electronic versions.

%d bloggers like this: