BP has rightfully drawn public wrath for many reasons, but there was one single executive decision of the past six weeks has become the most damaging for the company — the decision to attempt to control the American press.
Hundreds of complaints have been logged by journalists and photographers who were blockaded by BP officials, causing a firestorm in the mainstream press about the company and the audacity of its corporate communications policy. BP has made one thing clear — that it is about as transparent as the thick black ooze than now coats the beaches of the Gulf Coast.
It's no wonder no one trusts them with anything, and their latest move to buy Google AdWords for terms like "gulf oil spill" has consequentially brought about another round of strong criticism.
Normally such an ad buy would not be a big deal. It is clear the top result is in fact paid or "sponsored" as designated by the label and the yellow shading. It also clearly shows the url www.BP.com/ which is aboveboard.
Often for ad buys like this, a company would have created a "front" landing url like www.gulfoilnews.com. But BP execs, I'm sure, realized this would incite media criticism for being disingenuous, so they opted for the more "transparent" alternative, displaying the main company url.
Still, it has drawn attack. If company execs were smart, BP should have insisted on a sidebar ad rather than a top-level ad. Studies have shown that many people have trouble discerning the difference between a paid and a natural Google search result in the main column. So the company has opened itself up to yet another allegation of public trickery.
Is it really a big deal? Yes and no. If buying a top-level Google AdWord is a sin, it is certainly at the bottom of a very long list. But when you click on the official BP website link and see the lovely, perfectly white beaches on the home page, it's hard not to get mad. I marvel at the haunting parallel between BP's handling of oil and their handling of public communications ...
With the news that BP has actually increased the flow of oil into the Gulf in its latest attempt to divert it, will this latest attempt to divert public perception also backfire? I'm thinking ... yes. Big time.