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Dead Brand Walking

BP Oil Spill Protest Graphic by Anonymous Designer

In light of the recent and on-going BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster catastrophe horror, an event that will be a benchmark regarding our use of fossil fuels, I ask you to turn a moment to something else — something paltry in comparison. BP’s brand image.

In the year 2000, and at the cost of over $200 million dollars (a drop of oil in their bucket), British Petroleum launched their new logo and public identity with a well-orchestrated advertising and PR campaign. I remember well how my local Amoco station, with their red, white and blue colors, slowly and methodically began to morph over the period of that year into a new company, a company simply called “BP”. My acceptance of the new brand mark was cautious at first, as the green and yellow sun/flower shape was so dramatically different from anything I had ever seen. As the brand began to unfold that year, from “BP/Amoco” to “BP” to eventually changing the colors of the entire station, I finally came to believe the branding was absolutely brilliant. Metaphorically, the new brand mark just felt global, and it referenced the sun, the earth, flowers and plants—and it was fundamentally different that any other brand in the oil industry. Over the years, I actually came to feel good about buying my gas at BP because little by little, I too, was drinking the Kool-Aid.

BTW, it was branding powerhouse Landor who began the branding work in 1998, and they did it well. Landor designers and strategists worked with Amoco/BP corporate officials to discover a new brand “that would reflect attributes the company aspired to.” Those attributes were performance, environmental leadership, innovation and progressive ideas.”

Just yesterday I found the following on the BP web site: “Safe and reliable operations are integral to BP’s success, and we strive continuously to improve our safety record.” Ri-iight.

When CEO Tony said “I want my life back!” — where was his sensitivity to the 11 men killed on his oil rig? PR gaffe after PR gaffe were to follow, including saying numerous times to Congress that he “could not recall” certain key issues regarding safety. This was after it was revealed that BP went “on the cheap” for safety measures, pushed workers to work faster, and received nearly 800 safety violations in the last three years alone.

Now, the enviro-friendly BP mark that slowly won over this admittedly tough, brand consumer 10 years ago, is as dead in the oil-mucked water as the multitudes of fish, waterfowl, amphibians, shrimp and wetlands his company has killed. Accident? Yes it was an accident. But this was a “world changing” accident that occurred because the company failed to live up to it’s brand promises. Sadly, it has been shown that safety was second or third behind profit.

The beautifully designed BP brand mark now stands for ineptitude, false promises and a preventable environmental disaster that may be biblical in its proportions. BP will never be the same, and may never regain consumer respect. Now the brand mark is being parodied, heckled and vandalized all over the world. I may be wrong, but I say it’s time for BP live up to their commitments to fix this problem, then quietly reemerge as a better, different, and more committed company.

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Written by John Foster