Friday, June 4, 2010

There are times when (gasp) advertising is inappropriate

When it comes to the news, I generally have become a "hide my head in the sand" kind of person. When Brian Williams or Jim Lehrer warns me that the following scenes may be graphic, I turn the channel. Most of the time.

I make a few exceptions when I think it is necessary. One of the most gut-wrenching things I have ever seen was the families looking for loved ones after 9/11. Then there was the documentary that Jules and Gedeon Naudet put together. I felt obligated to watch these things.

Ever since the rig explosion in the Gulf, I've not just buried my head, but I've been covering it with some kind of mixture of mental block, a touch of denial, and maybe some concrete. I really have no stomach for suffering, and when it's animals, who have no real voice, I just can't deal with it. When it's suffering caused by greed, stupidity, and ineptitude, it's all just a little too much. However, yesterday some pictures finally surfaced of suffering birds, and I felt that sense of obligation again. This is something I need to remember. This is something I'm going to need to tell people about 50 years from now. I need to remember.

It's not just the animals

Of course, I'm not ignorant of the fact that people are already being deeply affected by what's going on here. Fishermen, the seafood industry, tourism -- tons of jobs. Suffering people on the way. Then I think about the Pointe Aux Chenes, who have born witness to American cruelty before. They were pushed to the very edges of our country, to the marshlands of Louisiana, and now, guess whose land is being soaked in the slick of greed and stupidity? And I wonder about things we aren't even talking about yet. For example:

1. How many generations must we wait till fish & seafood affected by the spill is definitely safe to eat again?

2. If the oil does indeed reach all the way up to the Atlantic, how will we possibly be able to track the effects of all of the sludge and chemicals floating out there?

3. Who will monitor these things? We can't even keep cadmium out of Shrek glasses.

Isn't there all this talk about crisis PR?

So as a marketer, I'm looking at all of this, and then I see a full page ad for BP in the Wall Street Journal. As Jay Baer points out in his brilliant Blog on the subject, the ad does not apologize. It's basically going through the motions. Now, as a media buyer and as a person rather familiar with media pricing, I happen to know that an ad like that is worth some serious change.

Maybe if the ad DID include even the slightest sense of guilt or apology, I wouldn't be so steamed. However, it really doesn't. So steamed I am.

There are a lot of things that could have been done with the some $50 million that BP has spent on these kind of pointless ads. Maybe they could have used the ad to ask people to donate to a special clean-up fund. Maybe they could have shared the space with the National Wildlife Federation. Maybe they could have given it to me so I could have purchased $50 million worth of dish soap to help clean up the suffocating birds. Really. That's what I would use it for right now.

Why be mad at BP?

In response to a lot of the "Boycott BP" talk out there, people are saying that BP is really, sadly, no better or worse than any other oil & gas company. And besides, boycotting the corporation will only, per usual, hurt people who are not to blame, like your local BP franchise manager. I've been trying to turn my attention to the National Wildlife Fund, who is asking people to spread the word via Social Media. Social Media which is, by the way, generally free.

I'm not saying that advertising in a crisis is bad policy. But the lesson here is that if you are, say, destroying a national treasure and an entire ecosystem at the same time, you might want to hold out on the "we're working on it" ad campaign until that money has been used to clean up the mess. In this particular case, advertising made BP's situation worse, not better.

Image from MSNBC.

1 comment:

Julie said...

This is bothering the hell out of me as well. I've heard the folks saying that boycotting BP will do no good - and I'm afraid that might be true. The reason the oil companies make so much money is because we Americans need it to drive our giant cars and heat our giant homes. If not BP, someone else will step in and do the same exact thing.

The way to solve this is to reduce, re-use, recycle, buy local, ride your bike, take the bus, turn the AC up a couple degrees... Reduce dependence on oil. We can do it!