The (brand) disaster which is BP

June 2010

When I started out in business on my own about 9 years ago, I was full of brand talk. Fresh from the success of heading-up Argos’ re-brand, I was keen to tell the world just how much I knew about brands. Actually I know rather more now than I did then, and, with my current knowledge, I might have taken a rather different view on a few topics and expressed them rather differently. But then wouldn’t we all about something nearly a decade on.

One of the brands I loved to talk about back then was BP. Like Argos at the same time, they’d been going through a re-brand which, supposedly, was not just a cosmetic makeover but a strategic transformation in the business which included cultural change. I used a case study of BP in training sessions for clients I was helping to get their management teams to think about brands being more than just a logo (which, typically and in a broad sense, people in business now get, but didn’t universally then).

So what did I tell them? I reminded them of the out-going logo…

Old BP Logo

Old BP Logo

that this image represented something BP now wanted to move away from: Just saying we’re British, we sell petrol, and nothing in it suggesting that what you may believe about our poor environmental record actually isn’t true.

Then I reminded them of the new logo…

New BP Logo

New BP Logo

and that what this said was something very different: That we’ve moved ‘beyond petroleum’, that the ‘British bit’ is now very secondary (small point size of ‘b’ and in lower case) and that actually we’re all about the environment in a good way.

In fact so confident was I that BP had done a good job on their new identity and the strategy behind it, that I’d ask the delegates on my training course what they thought a 6 year old child might think the company did to make a living if they were just shown the logo and if they didn’t know the background and truth. The answer? Most thought the innocent child would plumb for an environmental organisation (if not those actual words).

I don’t use the BP example in training courses anymore, but if I were to revamp my material one of the images I’d put up on the screen would be this one…



Then I’d talk about how this brand didn’t practice what it preached. How it deceived the world by spending billons on its image, but didn’t put in place basic working practices which ensured an environmental disaster of biblical proportions couldn’t happen. Is that a bit harsh? I’m not sure it is, and I also think the way in which the culture of this once great global business has been exposed at the highest level during the handling of the crisis, is further testament that the green wool was being firmly pulled over our eyes.

BP are learning in the hardest possible way that if you say your brand stands for certain values, then these certain values are what your people must live and breath every hour of every day. The slight irony for me is that, all those years ago when I waxed lyrical about BP, I made harsh criticisms about my former employer, Argos, and the fact that I’d partly left the business through the frustration of fighting an operations department because they undermined the stated brand values of the business by consistently NOT delivering a good customer experience in stores.

But now I wouldn’t give that last point a second thought because it seems so totally insignificant in comparison: The operators at Argos could spoil your day’s shopping with a disorganised and chaotic store experience; the operators at BP have just destroyed a piece of our planet and many people’s lives. That fact actually makes any brand debate almost irrelevant, which is the real reason I won’t be talking about BP in my training courses anymore.

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