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USA TODAY: Advertising/Marketing: Filling up ‘greener’

By Laura Petrecca

In an ambitious new marketing campaign, BP (BP) takes on two of the biggest negative perceptions of Big Oil: that gas station service stinks and that oil companies don’t care about the environment.

On the service issue, TV ads use cartoon characters and a catchy tune to say that BP tries to make customers’ days “a little better” with clean gas stations and friendly service.

One ad shows a cartoon family having a bad road trip until they pull into a spiffy-looking BP for food and gas.

“We are really trying to elevate expectations in a category where they are very low,” says David Fowler, worldwide creative director at BP’s ad agency, Ogilvy. “Gas is an odd product. Buying it can be dull, at best, and a nuisance, at worse.”

As part of an ongoing effort to upgrade the company’s environmental image, approximately 11,500 BP-branded retail locations in the USA will switch to recyclable paper bags from plastic, and pass out sunflower seeds.

“It’s very important to make little steps in the green space and (make promises) that we deliver on,” says Ann Hand, BP head of global brand marketing and innovation.

The initiatives were launched this month — designated as Earth Month, with Sunday being Earth Day — but Hand says there is not an overt tie-in.

“We’ve been working on this campaign for over a year,” she says. “But it’s always good when you’re going into spring and time of rejuvenation.”

It’s also right before the summer driving season, when gas stations battle for the traveler’s dollar. A sales boost is BP’s bottom-line goal.

“We want to drive loyalty to get people to drive an extra block or cut across an extra lane of traffic to choose BP over its competitors,” Hand says.

How BP hopes to fuel a better brand image:

•Put “service” back into service station. Hand says BP has charged station managers to focus on “cleanliness and friendliness.”

“The company is putting an emphasis on delivering better services on site and giving back a bit more than the traditional fueling service it has been giving customers,” she says.

Filling up isn’t a consumer’s “favorite thing to do, but they are locked there for three minutes.”

A new website, ALittleBetterGasStation.com, also is designed to offer more service, including a BP gas station locater that can search by ZIP code or city.

•Use small gestures to show that Big Oil doesn’t have to be that bad for the planet. BP ordered more than 10 million packs of sunflower seeds for the April promotion.

In May, it will dole out kid-friendly trading cards that feature the cartoon characters from the TV commercials offering tips, such as “turn off the water while you brush your teeth,” Hand says.

Other giveaways BP is considering include energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs.

The company also will post eco-friendly reminders at stations, such as an air hose sign that says: “Proper tire inflation makes gas mileage a little better.”

Hand acknowledges that BP has faced skepticism of its overall eco-friendly campaign, which also talks about alternative energy sources, as being just corporate spin.

“It’s the curse that we have to constantly deal with. But it’s never occurred to me to back down and not to try to do the right thing.”

http://www.usatoday.com/money/advertising/2007-04-23-bp-ads-usat_N.htm

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