.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;} Making Sense: e-Digest of Brand Thinking

Monday, April 30, 2007

Will the real BP please stand up.

We talk a lot about brand personality. But can a brand have a split personality? Take the case of BP. They’ve embraced “green” more strongly and outwardly than virtually any other oil giant. Their logo is green, their stations are green, even their annual report is green.

As BP’s Web site explains: “A new breed of energy company demanded a new breed of identity. The Helios, our logo, was inspired by the image of a sunflower: a living organic form, reflecting our commitment to more environmental ways of producing energy.”

BP's brand positioning, “Beyond Petroleum,” leaves no room for doubt that they are moving towards alternative forms of renewable energy. Again, from BP’s Web site: “Beyond Petroleum is a summation of our brand promise and values. It's our way of expressing our brand to the world in the most succinct and focused way possible. It is both our philosophical ideal and a practical description of our work."

In some areas, Beyond Petroleum is already a reality for BP. For example, in the solar energy realm, BP Solar has established itself as a worldwide leader in manufacturing and delivering advanced solar electric systems. They are also the most global (according to BP) of all PV (Photovoltaic) companies, operating cell production facilities on four continents. BP is also developing other forms of alternative energy, including wind power, hydrogen power and natural gas power. Sounds pretty green to me.

But there’s also an un-green side to BP. It surfaced in 2005, with an explosion and fire at their Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers and injured 170. As reported in the
Houston Chronicle , it prompted The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board to issue an urgent safety recommendation for the first time in its history, requesting that BP PLC form an independent panel of experts to review safety at the company's five North American refineries.

In 2006, corrosion in BP’s Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, pipeline led to nearly 5,000 barrels of crude oil spilling out across the snow, reports
FORTUNE Magazine. Worse yet, it was discovered that six miles of BP’s pipeline were badly corroded. Federal investigators in Anchorage launched a criminal probe into BP's maintenance practices on the North Slope, convening a grand jury and ordering BP to turn over a six-foot section of the pipe that burst.

These two tragic events tore big, jagged holes in BP’s green reputation, not to mention squandering a big chunk of BP’s hard-earned brand equity and tarnishing their flagship Helios logo. The unfortunate part of all of this is that both events might have been prevented had BP taken its maintenance and safety responsibilities more seriously.

The takeaway for us, as brand thinkers, is that good branding should always be a 360-degree activity. Ignore any part of your brand's circle, and you risk looking dishonest, misleading or deceptive to the world outside that circle. In short, you become one more hypocritical corporate voice in a sea of the same.

Thinking about BP's expansion into solar (electricity)power, could theyever link up with a major player in a completely different industry sector.
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