College football fans aren’t the only ones who’ll be paying close attention to what’s happening in Louisiana this evening – BP is hoping that tonight’s BCS championship game will be the ultimate payoff for their aggressive public relations campaign which is aimed at convincing the American public that the oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster has disappeared, and that they can come back to the Gulf Coast without fear of finding oily beaches.
For the last few weeks, those of us on the Gulf Coast have been inundated with ads from BP, telling us that they’ve made good on their promise to clean up the mess from the April 2010 oil rig explosion that released millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This multi-million dollar ad campaign is their last-ditch effort to bring tourism back to the economically-depressed Gulf Coast.
The Associated Press lays out the key elements of BP’s new campaign:
The PR blitz is part of the company’s multibillion dollar response to the Gulf oil spill that started after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and leading to the release of more than 200 million gallons of oil. As engineers struggled to cap the out-of-control well, it turned into the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
Now, BP is touting evidence that the Gulf’s ecology has not been severely damaged by the spill and highlighting improving economic signs.
“I’m glad to report that all beaches and waters are open for everyone to enjoy!” BP representative Iris Cross says in one TV spot to an upbeat soundtrack. “And the economy is showing progress, with many areas on the Gulf Coast having their best tourism season in years.”
The campaign, launched just before Christmas, has ramped up for the two-week period around the Sugar Bowl and Bowl Championship Series title game to be played on Monday between LSU and Alabama.
The company is paying chefs Emeril Lagasse and John Besh to promote Gulf seafood, it’s hired two seafood trucks to hand out fish tacos and seafood-filled jambalaya to the hundreds of thousands of tourists and fans pouring into the city for the football games and it’s spreading its messages at galas, pre-game parties and vacation giveaways.
Unfortunately for BP, their advertisements are falling upon deaf ears along the coast. In fact, according to the Associated Press, the head of the Louisiana Shrimp Association said that their new ads are little more than “BP propaganda.” Additionally, the tourism industry is reporting little to no growth in the 20 months following the oil “spill.”
The NRDC has fired back against the BP ads:
BP's newest PR salvo touting its Gulf cleanup hit a nerve with many residents still struggling to get their lives back (one ad captured this BP beach protest in the background). The oil behemoth's slickly produced pleas for Americans to “come on down” to the Gulf where the weather is warm, the food is sublime and the beaches are sparkling clean–at least in the commercials–has long stuck in the craw of people whose shrimp boxes are bare and whose beaches and bayous are sometimes littered with sticky tar balls and bloated dolphins.
But what if BP took a different tact this coming year? What if the oil giant —which scooped up profits worth nearly $5 billion last quarter and is planning to drill anew in the deepwater Gulf—decided to give a voice to those enduring the worst fishing season in memory? What if BP decided to tell the stories of families suffering from debilitating health problems they blame on the crude and chemical dispersants, oil that still mysteriously bubbles up near BP’s Macondo well 40 miles offshore?
These ads are hardly the first PR offensive that the oil giant has taken. The Justice Department announced last year that they would launch an investigation into BP's deception regarding the rate of oil that was flowing into the Gulf. But there are a few other misinformation campaigns that they should investigate, as well. As we pointed out last year:
The Justice Department should also look hard into the aggressive misinformation campaign that BP launched during the oil leak. After the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, BP sent its PR machine into overdrive trying to misdirect the public about what was happening in the Gulf of Mexico.
Leaked BP emails show that the company actively attempted to “buy” scientists near the Gulf Coast, in order to produce favorable reports on the impact the oil would have on the environment. This tactic would have also prevented these scientific experts from later testifying for plaintiff’s attorneys representing oil disaster victims, as their payments from BP would have provided a significant conflict of interest.
BP’s campaigns stretched far beyond buying scientists. The oil giant launched an aggressive online ad campaign, spending a staggering $3.7 million in just one month on Google AdWords relating to the oil spill - BP bought relevant search terms such as “oil spill,” “leak,” and “top kill.” Buying these search terms gave BP an online advantage, as it put their sponsored links (most of which are still active today) ahead of relevant news stories and other information relating to the oil disaster in a web search.
After the online ad campaign took off, the company then began their “grassroots” efforts. Two industry-funded organizations went into heavy action: The Gulf of Mexico Foundation and the America’s Wetland Foundation. The Gulf of Mexico Foundation pulled its board of directors from the oil industry, and most members of the board were either actively working for oil companies, or for offshore oil drilling interests. America’s Wetland Foundation was even less discrete than hiring an oil industry board of directors – they took funding directly from the oil industry, including: Shell, Chevron, the American Petroleum Institute, Citgo, Entergy, and Exxon Mobil.
BP also donated $5 million to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in July 2011, 3 months after the oil leak began. After this cash infusion, the Sea Lab released a report claiming that the massive dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico were being caused by the cold water, not the oil and Corexit that BP poured into the waters. Scientists at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration pointed out that dolphins actually swim away to avoid cold water.
As I’ve pointed out before, I live on the Gulf Coast, and that’s why this particular issue is so important to me. I have seen what has been done, and what hasn’t, and I can promise you this: BP is not being honest about their cleanup efforts, and there is a growing sense of desperation that has enveloped this entire area.