Tuesday, June 8, 2010

BP Attempts to Clean up the Oil...On the Information Highway.

In a bold move today to clean up their image, instead of focusing on the spill, BP bought Google and Yahoo search words and phrases that contain the word "oil”, and other terms related to the oil spill and cleanup in the golf such as “oil spill" and "gulf disaster".

It makes sense: If you can't stop the oil from gushing from the depths of the earth, or clean it, or your image, up fast enough, then cover up the traces on the information highway.

What buying search terms means is that when the words or phrases are entered into search engine (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.), the top results will be websites and information owned and produced by BP. It won't happen right away, but over the span of the next few months you'll find less “negative” coverage and more coverage on “learn[ing] more about how BP is helping”. Last I checked leaking oil for 50 days straight into the Gulf of Mexico was not “helping”; and is it “helping” if it's their fault?

BP cites make[ing] information on the spill more accessible to the public.” and providing “key links to information on filing claims, reporting oil on the beach and signing up to volunteer” as the top motives behind the purchase of the search terms and words. One can't help but wonder if the motive goes further.

Will they tell the truth, even if it's going to make them look bad?

If you've watched coverage you know the media has accused BP of downplaying the oil spill and its effects on the environment and the people. In addition BP doesn't have a clue about a lot of what going on, for example the actual rate of the oil leak; though Tony Hayward, BP Chief Executive Officer has more recently put the potential leak rate at 60,000 barrels a day. This means to date there has been an estimated 3 million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. That's 126 million gallons (477 million litres). They also don't know how long it will continue to spew. A recent estimate is Christmas, according to Dan Pickering, head of research at Tudor Pickering Holt & Co., an energy investment company in Houston Texas.
Reflecting on BP’s latest PR tactic, marketing company executive Scott Slatin tells the Fiscal Times, “While we have seen corporations use search engine marketing to sway opinions[...] this is the first time I have seen a company use this tactic on such a wide scale. And it is very effective, because BP gets its message, ‘Learn more about how BP is helping,’ atop almost every Google search permutation related to the spill.” (http://thinkprogress.org/2010/06/06/bp-oil-related-buys/)

Some reporters, news outlets, bloggers and let's face it, regular people, question the ethics of BP buying out the search terms and effectively controlling the information we are exposed to. It will be rather cathartic, if you think about it. Instead of being faced with things like the ugly truth, the scarey facts and peoples opinions when we search for information; we will instead be handed a neat little “look-at-us-we-are-not-so-bad. We're helping!” BP public relations package. Open up wide.

Photo credit: climateprogress.org

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