3 Things BP Needs to Do Right Now

BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward, has managed to make a very bad situation even worse by opening his mouth.

As footage of his company’s mistake staining the waters off the United States circled the globe, Hayward said: "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume."

This is utter verbal catastrophe and shows a lack of marketing strategy that makes me think that even if BP hadn’t faced this disaster, the company wasted millions on that “green” energy advertising campaign they’ve been running for years.

I say wasted, because to have the top man in an organization show such incredible ignorance of the general perception of this event–even if he is under oil-geyser like pressure that few of us can imagine— shows that there is no top to bottom, bottom to top marketing philosophy driving this company. I don’t like to say this, but this is madness! Period. End of story.

Let’s talk Tylenol for a minute (Hayward probably needs to take a few). I’m not talking about Tylenol’s recent challenges, but the Tylenol crisis of two and a half decades ago.

When Tylenol faced its greatest challenge during the tragic poisonings, their approach set the standard for how a company needs to have marketing in its DNA.

The marketing I’m talking about isn’t the smoke and mirrors, let’s sell product at any cost variety. No. The kind of marketing that the folks behind Tylenol showed they knew was the kind of brand-caring, long-term, Target-market sensitive value building that lies behind the best companies.

In Tylenol’s case, even though they knew that the poisoning could have happened to almost any packaged goods company, they didn’t dwell on this fact (i.e., no defensiveness, no the gulf’s a “very big ocean”). Instead, they decided that among other superb marketing outreach tactics to restore confidence in their products by consumers, they would make the world safer for everyone by pioneering tamper-resistant packaging.

In short, they took the high road. The best marketing always does.

If BP’s listening, here are three takeaways to be gleaned from Tylenol:

1. Immediately announce that BP will be “adopting” the Gulf of Mexico and going to make things cleaner than before –in other words, show that the company is making a long-term effect to shore eco systems and the fishing industry. Perhaps develop partnerships within the environmental community and the fishing industry to foster long-term change.

2. Name whatever ingenious device you come up with to stop the spill something like “The BP Enviro-safe Solution”. Then make this proprietary technology available to all oil companies. Also, announce that the company will be making available The BP Spill Response Handbook which will be compiled from the findings of an expert panel that months from now will be able to provide valuable, environmentally protective lessons from this event.

3. Announce plans to create a second expert program to evaluate the accident causes thoroughly. This and the findings from step #2 might result in the development of other devices like universal fail safes (named after BP), methods and protocols. Again, BP will be sharing this intellectual property, even possibly giving the devices away or selling at cost, to the rest of the industry (mining, drilling and other resource companies).

Bottom line, BP can turn this situation around for itself and the world. It can take control of the story by having a long-term plan for past, present and future environmental responsibility.

Fact is that the company is already in a very large ocean of trouble. People can forgive accidents and will –you don’t need to defend your brand against this and defensiveness only serves to make you look guilty. But they’ll always applaud the underdog turning bad circumstances into a benefit for everyone.

And, remember, things are always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.

John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert and president of the Marketing Department of America who markets his own services as The Marketing Doctor. He is a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum and the author of a new book "People Buy Brands, Not Companies."

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