Ever since I purchased my first new car—a 2008 Honda Accord in July 2008—I’ve always filled her up with BP gasoline. In fact, I can remember the first time I didn’t use BP; it was more than a year later, in the fall of 2009, somewhere in the middle of Missouri in the middle of the night, and I didn’t have a choice. And throughout the rest of the almost two years and 35,000 miles I’ve had her, I’ve bought gasoline somewhere other than BP probably five times.
Why? That’s a good question, actually. I remember reading in my car’s manual that low-grade gasoline isn’t healthy for your car. I also trusted BP as a longstanding brand. I reacted positively to BP’s marketing strategies and to the fact that there’s a BP station just about anywhere (except in that particular empty part of Missouri). The pleasant green of their brand is easily recognizable. I found comfort in that and also in knowing I was a loyal customer, part of a small group.
So now, as a consumer, I don’t know what to do. A Facebook group created about a week ago called “Boycott BP” offers their advice to 5,646 fans: “Boycott BP stations until the spill is cleaned up!” Will halting the purchase of BP gasoline for the next several months (that’s a conservative estimate) allow the oil off the coast of Louisiana to be cleaned up more quickly? Presumably, BP isn’t holding its big-gun cleanup efforts for when they see revenues going down. That would be insane. Nevertheless, these people like being a part of a group that stands for something. Good for them.
And of course, bad for BP. While as a consumer I’m not sure what to do regarding my loyalty to BP, as a PR specialist, here’s where I would start:
1. Create an official presence on Facebook. From what I can find, BP doesn’t have an official Facebook presence. That’s a bad choice for a company anytime. Throw up a fan page, make it open to comments. People are going to bad mouth you on Facebook; give them your actual presence so they can do it in a place where a) you can easily monitor it, b) you can provide responses, and c) where people actually feel like they’re being heard. In this situation, go a step further and provide in the “info” section some names and titles so people will know who they’re engaging with. BP is already doing this on their Web site: move it to Facebook, too. That’s where most people are.
2. Find an endorsement from an environmentalist. Whether it’s U.S. News rankings or the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, third-party validations are priceless. BP needs to find an environmentalist or a group that can validate that it’s on the right track toward making this situation right, while acknowledging that correcting the situation will not happen overnight. Sure, it won’t be easy. But try. And then hold a press conference.
3. Establish a spokesperson to which we can relate. People—happy or unhappy—need to be able to relate to the person trying to give them a message. BP needs to implement a spokesperson that this Louisiana-area population can relate to; of course it’s our first inclination to put our chief officer at the helm, but BP CEO Tony Hayward isn’t always the most effective choice of messenger. Keep him on standby at all times, of course, but vary it from time to time.
4. Take an advertising cue from Toyota. You know those TV commercials we all keep seeing from Toyota about how they’re still the quality company they always have been and now they’re working harder to make sure they don’t lose your trust again? Put those same messages out there, BP. Make the commercials simple, inexpensive to produce, and as organic as you can.
5. Shave your heads. Yep. As many BP decision-makers as possible should shave their heads for one of these organizations collecting it to create mats, booms and “oil socks.” Then donate a small sum of money to them. It’s not going to clean up the oil spill, but it is a tangible, down-home gesture. And it would lighten the mood.