Last week, BP issued a statement saying that they were close to a solution that could halt the seemingly uncontrollable oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that has horrified the world – yours truly included – since April 20th. This catastrophe, which occurred at an offshore drilling rig and killed 11 people, has caused more than 200,000 gallons of oil per day to leak into the waters near Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, and is on track to eclipse the Exxon Mobil oil spill in terms of size. The damage of such a spill will be felt for years, and will unquestionably affect the economics of the Gulf Coast.
From a marketing standpoint this is very, very bad news for BP, especially because it has spent the better part of the last 10 years trying to evolve its public image. Their campaign began in 2000 with the unveiling of a new global brandmark – a sunburst of green, yellow and white – that was intended to symbolize dynamic energy in all its forms. As a designer I loved this mark; it became the envy of the petroleum community for conveying a friendly, accessible, and green message. In a press release announcing the new design, the group said that BP stood for the company’s new aspirations: “better people, better products, big picture, beyond petroleum.”
But the company never really went “beyond petroleum” (and was anything but green), and now, thanks to the Deepwater Horizon fiasco, BP stands for something entirely different: BIG Problem. Not just for the Gulf…but for the world and future generations as well. How can the company possibly recover, now?
Perhaps, the only way for BP to recover from this devastating natural disaster is to metaphorically “die” (like so much wildlife in the Gulf) or to reinvent itself, and its mission, under a new name just as the Phillip Morris Companies did in 2003. Having endured decades of legal battles and (dare I say rightly deserved) bad press, Phillip Morris had wished to emphasize that its business consisted of more than tobacco; at the time, it owned an 84% stake in Kraft. So they re-branded themselves under the name Altria—Latin for “high”—accompanied by a brightly colored, abstract brandmark, projecting a friendly image to the public.
But if BP does go that route, I suggest that they take it one step further and consider embracing alternative forms of energy. That way, they really will move “Beyond Petroleum,” which would be a very, very good thing for them…and the rest of the world.