A Rebranding Effort Betrayed
By Tom Ryan
A recent editorial in Advertising Age explored ethics around branding,
particularly an individual’s responsibility to make sure those messages somewhat
As a former copywriter for BP, Martin Torres has a guilt complex.
Mr. Torres wrote that in 2001, British Petroleum changed its name to BP and rebranded itself as a “concerned global energy company.” People
were openly encouraged to communicate with the company on ways to balance environmental
issues with energy needs. As the digital copywriter at OgilvyInteractive, Mr.
Torres and his art director managed how that dialogue was weaved on the web.
Mr. Torres said he bought into the BP’s eco-commitment, transparency and progressiveness
— even defending the company in conversations.
“Like many of us who spend eight to 12 hours a day building brands, I
believed in the story I was helping to craft, no matter how small my contribution
was,” wrote Mr. Torres. “I believed in the ‘radical openness’ that
they wanted to portray.”
While, like many, he was horrified by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, he also “felt
personally betrayed by BP” because the environmental failings and lack
of transparency contradicted those rebranding efforts. Mr. Torres was particularly
interested in exploring his own complicity in crafting that message and the
As someone who worked on Joe Camel in the early ’90s, Mr. Torres said he wasn’t
discussing brands “in which we are fully aware of the nature of their
business” but brands claiming to be doing good.
“We rely on the information we are given from our clients,” said
Mr. Torres. “So is this just a hazard of the business? As marketers, should
we ever question the information we are given? Should we ever question the
validity of facts? Should we require proof? What exactly is our responsibility
so that we don’t wind up feeling like co-conspirators?”
He questioned whether these situations are just part of the advertising game.
Mr. Torres concluded, “All I know is that like the wildlife on the Gulf,
I’m feeling pretty oily right now. But in the meantime, I’ll be continuing
to do the best by the brands I work on and try to keep myself on the right
side of the truth.”
Discussion Questions: Has BP’s “beyond petroleum” positioning
as a new type of energy company caused more damage to its reputation than
had it communicated a traditional oil company message? Should Martin Torres
feel misled? Did he have a responsibility to make sure the messages he was
helping to create were factual?