For seven years, British Petroleum has invested heavily in its “Beyond Petroleum” campaign which has been praised by business press and awards shows but criticized by skeptics as greenwashing. The success of the ongoing campaign has compelled Adweek to ask if advertising, as much as action, can change public perception.Though BP was the first oil company to acknowledge a link between energy use and global warming, the company lost its green credibility when it abruptly withdrew from the Global Climate Coalition, Adweek writes. So in 2000, after a 1998-merger with Amoco, BPAmoco invested heavily in its “Beyond Petroleum” campaign to reintroduce itself as a socially conscious company. That campaign, notes this article, was quite polarizing.
But it also seemed to work. Sales from 2004 to 2005 rose from $192 billion to $240 billion then to $266 billion in 2006. Moreover, a Landor Associates survey of consumers found that 21% of them thought BP was the greenest of oil companies, followed by Shell at 15% and Chevron at 13%. The campaign also won a 2007 gold Effie from the American Marketing Association. BP said that from 2000-2007, its brand awareness went from 4 percent to 67 percent.
But is the company greener? Critics claim BP has simply co-opted green language to distract the public, but even they admit to the ad campaign’s effectiveness. “BP is running a greenwashing campaign,” said John Stauber, founder of the Center for Media and Democracy, “and from a sales and marketing perspective, it is brilliant. They’ve positioned themselves where everyone wants to be today, especially oil companies.”
However, last November, a PFC Energy study claimed that in the area of climate change and reducing its greenhouse gases, “BP has indeed been more proactive than [competitors].” And BP was last year’s most accountable company according to Accountability Rating. Earlier in the year, BP had had a controversial showdown with officials in Chicago over the dumping of toxic waste and was fined heavily for environmental regulation violations.