BP Is Sponsoring The World Cup. This Won’t End Well.

BP Sentiment on TwitterOn my recent trip to South Africa I noticed a lot of BP gas stations, something I don’t see in my part of the States. But the really troubling part came when, Amid the shared excitement for the coming World Cup I noticed that BP was also a World Cup sponsor. “Oh no. This won’t end well.” I thought. High profile, feel good marketing in times of crisis are not a good idea. This obviously bothered me because I thought BP was trying to hide behind a huge event instead of focusing on their problem.

BP’s not doing so well on the PR front. A quick search on Twendz for BP shows the expected bad sentiment and the word associations with it.

In a recent blog post, my colleague, Kevin Murphy even had a few tips for BP on how to handle the current crisis. His #2 recommendation: “Shut down all marketing activities except for information about their efforts to stop the oil and the cleanup.” I completely agree, but this isn’t just a sponsorship by BP, this is a sponsorship by BP Africa.

Bad Marketing or Bad Timing?

What difference does it make if BP Corporate or BP Africa sponsors World Cup? BP Africa is a Sub (subsidiary) of BP Global. The people at BP Africa had about as much to do with the spill and the following bad communications, as you and I. BP is listed by FIFA as a national sponsor, which means BP Global had nothing to do with the sponsorship and many of them may not have known (and may still not know) that BP is a World Cup sponsor. BP Africa has been sponsoring African football events for along time, this deal has been in place for several years, long before the spill.

The banners are printed, the collateral is out there, what should BP do know that they are a sponsor of the World’s largest sporting event? Does BP Global stay out of it? Does BP Africa pretend that the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t exist and hope it all blows over. That is one strategy often employed and has it’s own merits. After all, Africa is half a world away and real football fans probably aren’t thinking about America and the Gulf of Mexico (well except Mexico). But there’s a problem with that: according to early reports, US fans have purchased to most tickets to World Cup. Yes, you read that right, USA. What do you think will happen when they see BP as a sponsor? No turning back now, if you’re in for an inch, you’re in for a mile. (Or something like that.)

I would recommend not doing TV ads, of any kind. I would monitor social media heavily looking for hot spots either at the event or around the world, especially those around the sponsorship. As another colleague, Scott Meis, pointed out, BP has already been brand jacked on Twitter, look for more of this, not less. They should not celebrate the sponsorship in their marketing but instead deploy street teams to deal with the problem head on. I would expect environmental groups to start boycotts and stage demonstrations at the World Cup.

(Note to activists: Don’t disrupt the games unless you want to lose the general public, which right now agrees with you. Don’t mess with football, the fans will kill you, literally.)

If BP hasn’t already, they should have several prepared statements about the sponsorship, that like I outlined above, this was NOT an attempt by BP Global to win over soccer fans but a long term relationship BP South Africa has supporting South Africa and football.

To BP critiques: (and I count myself in that camp right now), hold BP Global, and its leaders responsible and expect nothing short of full restitution (even if it’s technically impossible), but don’t hate the employees, especially those in South Africa.  Unfortunately to hurt BP you have to hurt their business in South Africa (I’m talking with money not actual violence) so boycotts and demonstrations are perfectly appropriate but harassing the employees there (or anywhere) is pointless.

If the BP employees in South Africa are anything like the employees of every major band I met with while in Africa they see their job priorities in this order:

  1. Advocate for, and represent South Africa for the betterment of South Africa first.
  2. Advocate for, and represent your company for the betterment of South Africa second.
  3. Advocate for, and represent your company for the betterment of the company third.

And I do mean all South African employees, all the way to the top of regional management, this is a strange notion for Americans, or most of the developed world to grasp but I saw this over and over again. They most likely, sponsored World Cup because they saw this as an opportunity to promote a huge community building opportunity for South Africa and they justified the ad spend to Global (if justification was even needed) because of the exposure.

What Should BP Do Now?

  • Besides focusing every available resource on stopping and cleaning up the spill they need to have a strong plan in place just for World Cup.
  • BP Global should support BP Africa in terms of messaging around the spill and monitor accordingly but largely get out of BP South Africa’s way and let them engage with the local community.
  • BP Global should consider having people on the ground trying to answer questions openly and honestly but understand that this will only have minimal effect because people are rightly upset.
  • Any tickets BP gets as a sponsor of World Cup should be auctioned off to a charity that is currently cleaning up their mess. All of them!
  • I’d also consider giving all sponsorship opportunities, booths, ad space, etc to the Deepwater Horizon Response joint effort with Federal agencies, which BP is a member of and probably forced to fund.
  • I also think BP needs to more transparently disclose their affiliation to Deepwater Horizons Response on the Facebook page. (As an aside, whoever is running the Facebook page also needs to engage with people not just post news updates.)

Overall I think this is horrible timing and could add a bad overtone for an amazing event and make things worse, but if BP plays it’s cards right, actually makes some progress on fixing the problem and gets lucky, it could mark the beginning of a very, very long road to regaining the public’s trust. Or they could stand by and watch things blow up.

What do you think they should do?

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Racial Marketing

Racially Diverse BarbieI’m posting full trip reports over on my Posterous site but I plan on excerpting the marketing relevant portions here and adding some additional thoughts for more discussion and to reward those of you reading both my blogs.

From my first day’s report: Greetings from South Africa: Howzit?

Racial Marketing

This could partly be because I’m a GenX American which means I was raised on a healthy dose of white guilt my entire life so take this with a grain of salt. Almost all the advertising I’ve seen, here in Africa, contains white people. The notable exception right now is the World Cup promotions which obviously strive to represent a global mix. In the US most advertisers try to skew their ads to represent the area they’ll be displayed in. This means if you go to Atlanta you’ll see more African Americans on billboards than you will in Idaho. But in South Africa this doesn’t seem to be the case.

According to the Wikipedia, South Africa is 80% black and 10% colored (not totally sure what that entails) but only 10% white. That’s the complete opposite of Boise, Idaho where I grew up. But the advertising isn’t much more diverse. I’m willing to bet it’s because there is still a huge gap between the haves and the have nots and advertisers are playing to their audience. I bet if you look at the color make up of the middle class and up you’d see a radically different mix than the general population.

This isn’t a knock against advertisers or the country and it’s people, just an observation that the country World still has a long way to go.

I asked one of my Joburg coworkers about this observation and her comment was that while apartheid is over, there is still a long way to go culturally for equality and that the middle class is predominantly black so there probably should be more diversity in the advertising than there is.

This is obviously a constant concern for American marketers. It’s so predominant in our industry that sometimes I wonder if we go too far. When was the last time you saw corporate stock photography that only had white males in it? We’re all so used to the stock image that has a young black man an Asian woman, usually one person who looks about retirement age, the unidentifiable mixed race person and maybe a white man. There are of course other variations of this, just change around the race age and genders. But we all know that it’s very calculated. Most of us have all of those people in our office but the photo’s are so staged and everyone of course is models so they look too nice.

I just wish we could get to the point where we didn’t have to think about it because it just wasn’t an issue. But like I said in my other post we still have a long way to go.

Photo credit by jmv

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Checking Out Social Media Around The Globe

Lego WorldEver since my days at HP, three years ago, when I was in a global marketing position I’ve been fascinated by the adoption of social media around the globe and how social media usage is determined by Internet and mobile penetration.

In much of the Western World Internet, and increasingly broadband, usage has created social media behaviors most of us are familiar with. But in many parts of the world, like Africa, Internet penetration is still only at 10% and I’m told its not even that great, but mobile penetration is almost complete and minutes are very cheap. In some areas like the Philippine’s, people carry around  4 and 5 phones so everyone is “in network” (sounds like my kind of people).

Even in some areas like various parts of Europe where broadband usage is as good or better than the US, social media adoption is still a few years behind the US.

I’m going to finally get some first hand knowledge this month as I go to Johannesburg and London. I’m really looking forward to experiencing first hand some of the global differences in our space.

My Posterous site is where I’ll be keeping my daily posts, thoughts and pictures. And then posting more thoughtful insights here.

I don’t know how much free time I’ll have when I’m there but if you’re in Jo’berg (as the locals say) or London shoot me a message or leave me a comment and we’ll try to meet up if time permits.

Also if you have any tips, let me know.

Photo credit by rbanks

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