BP Damages More Than Its Own Brand

Clearly, the on-going oil disaster is taking a toll on BP’s corporate brand equity.  BP’s Corporate Marketing Officer must be cringing with the number of parodies appearing on the internet that denigrate the brand image.  A case can be made that the BP brand is on life support and headed in the direction of flat lining without a “Lazarus like” intervention. It will be interesting to see if the BP brand can recover from this self-inflicted injury.  Maybe there are lessons that can be learned from Johnson & Johnson management’s deft handling of the Tylenol tampering crisis.  But, the big difference is that Johnson & Johnson was not the cause of the crisis, it too was a victim of the circumstances.  On the other hand, despite their inept management of the situation, the Exxon brand did survive the Valdez oil spill scandal, so all hope is not completely lost for the BP brand.

The crisis is certainly a BP CMO nightmare.  But the BP brand is not the only one that is suffering. Place brands in the Gulf of Mexico Region are also among the collateral damage.  That damage is resulting in a dramatic decline in tourism revenue and an unexpected redirection of tax revenue to clean-up the mess.  And the timing couldn’t be more unfortunate as community and state budgets are still under pressure from the global economic crisis and dependent on federal stimulus dollars to provide services.  Unfortunately, the ingredients for a “perfect storm” appear to be amassing.

Much has been written in the literature about managing a corporate brand under crisis, but very little guidance is available on how to effectively repair a place brand.

Is a Regional or State approach best to help rebuild the image of community brands affected by the BP oil spill?”

The answer is likely both.

The damage to brand image is so great the cost of repair is likely out of reach for any individual state or community budget to bear.  A Regional approach provides an opportunity for cost sharing that will lessen the burden for individual states.  This approach could (and I would argue should) be a public-private partnership that is charged with the responsibility of creating and executing a coordinated PR crisis management plan.  The Travel & Tourism industry and State Departments of Development should take the lead to 1) ensure a consistent message and 2) provide guidance/training/resources for community EDOs on how to handle the challenge locally.  Like the successful management of the Tylenol tampering crisis, this team needs to create a campaign to ensure the public has access to facts and is kept apprised about progress of recovery efforts.  This strategy should help restimulate the flow of tourism and minimize negative experiences by establishing the right consumer expectation.  In the short-term, the team could also look to target non-traditional consumer segments (like disaster recovery volunteers) and create special programs to ensure their visits deliver a positive experience.

I also think there needs to be a local response that focuses on residents and is designed to 1) provide relevant factual informed and 2) rebuild both confidence and pride in the community.  Local place brand marketers need to be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and take the model into consideration as they develop their communication plans.  At the moment, the physiological and safety needs of residents are the dominant concerns, and programs to address these should be the highest priority of any community EDO marketing plans.  Ultimately, the attitude of residents will determine the altitude of local economic prosperity.  Clearly, for communities involved, this is not a business as usual situation.  Promotional investment should be temporarily redirected from the capital attraction budget to capital retention budget.  In the long run, this strategy should deliver the greatest return.  Private sector leadership should be heavily engaged in helping craft and implement the plan to ensure credibility.  Local media should also be involved to help deliver message reach, particularly around public service programs designed to help reduce the financial instability this crisis creates for families in the community.


Economic Development professionals in the Gulf of Mexico Region are facing an exceptionally tough branding challenge that was unexpected and not of their making.  One thing you can do to help them address the challenge is to share your experience and thoughts.

Project PLACE BRANDAID is about doing just that.

I would like you to share perspective on the best approach to rebuild the place brand affected by this crisis.  If you have experience in working on rebuilding a place image following a natural or manmade crisis, please share what you learned.

All you need to do is take a moment and use the comment box to provide your expertise and ideas for how local, State and/or Regional economic development professionals might think about addressing the image damage created by the crisis.  I will make certain the input is provided to the EDO leaders in the Gulf of Mexico Region for consideration.

Providing your expertise is one easy and meaningful way we can help the Region manage through this challenge.  I encourage you to participate in this project and enroll others you believe can contribute to the cause.

I know it is not as glitzy as a Farm Aid program, but it is one way we can leverage our professional expertise as a global community to help make a difference in the Gulf of Mexico Regional recovery efforts.

Take a moment and leave a comment.

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