BP: the worst brand positioning mistake since the Holy Roman Empire?

For 60+ days, I’ve avoided writing a post about BP. I’ve been devastated, as I’m sure many of you have, by what has been happening in the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve all been inundated with news and stories, most of them depressing, about real lives—people, animal, plant—altered forever by the Deepwater Horizon accident.

Holy Roman Empire = neither holy, nor Roman, nor empire. BP = not beyond petroleum.

Why think about brand damage when there is so much catastrophic real damage still happening as I write this post? But after having several people ask me about it over the last few weeks, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts as well as some of the articles I’ve been reading about BP’s brand positioning debacle. It may prove to be one of the most important, albeit sad, brand positioning lessons ever.

My view? Not since the Holy Roman Empire has there been a greater misalignment between brand promise and brand experience than we see today with BP.

Dig deep into your European history memory. Not the Roman Empire with all the togas, nice buildings, gods, and gladiators. I’m talking about the really crappy one that emerged in the Middle Ages and which Voltaire famously described as “neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.”

If the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire, BP has certainly proven itself to not be Beyond Petroleum.

So how did this happen?

In 2000, British Petroleum hired one of the top advertising & PR agencies in the world, Ogilvy & Mather, to help them attempt a global brand transformation following the acquisition of Amoco and a few other small organizations. Their goal was to reposition BP “as transcending the oil sector, delivering top-line growth while remaining innovative, progressive, environmentally responsible and performance-driven.”

Why did I put this goal in quotes?

Because I took it directly from the BP “success story” which is still up on Ogilvy & Mather’s website (someone might want to get that down…). The story goes on to say that the launch of the new brand position “far exceeded expectations” and resulted in high brand credibility and favorability scores and two (!) PR Week Campaign of the Year awards.

A job well done.

Except BP’s new brand promise wasn’t even in the same ballpark as its brand experience. Rather than dive into a full analysis here, I’ll point you to some great posts I found already highlighting the brand promise/brand experience gaps:

[Read the rest of this post on Dark Matter Matters]

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