If the BP oil spill disaster will teach us anything in the world of naming and branding, it's that a brand name is just as fragile an ecosystem as a pristine beach or the Everglades. It takes one really big, uncontainable spill to pollute and destroy it.
Laura Ries identified BP's "brand problem" earlier this month, saying bluntly (even for her), "The spill in the Gulf has pulled the curtain off of a company that has been blowing smoke up our butts for years. No consumer, regulator or politician will soon forget this tragedy" and concluding with,
Strong brands with a reputation for quality, safety and honesty are able to survive even the worst tragedies and negative PR stories. Toyota, Tylenol and Goldman Sachs have faced some dark days recently, but for them the future is still bright because the brands are strong. For BP, not so much. A brand with a poor reputation facing one of the worst oil spills ever is damaged goods. No amount of advertising can fix this. Anything BP says will no longer be believed. You can fool us once, but never again.
But from a branding perspective, things have gotten far worse. Aside from the terrible PR this is generating, the Internet is busy tearing up the BP brand name.
24/7 already has a joke article up saying that BP is planning on changing its name. But many a truth is said in jest, because this brand name is now mud. Quite literally.
Right now, its product is "environmental destruction," according to Edward Boches at Creativity Unbound. And the company's PR people are now dealing with a rogue Twitterer at @BPGlobalPR who now has a whopping 54,000 followers and whose satirical, bitter tweets ("Thousands of people are attacked by sea creatures every year. We at BP are dedicated to bringing that number down. You're welcome") are getting retweeted every second. Never mind that this guy, whoever he is, has more followers that BP's real Twitter feed @BP_America or its Oil Spill @Oil_Spill_2010 Twitter feed, the WSJ already has picked up the story with almost palpable schadenfreude.
Add to this Greenpeace's competition to actually rebrand BP (BP= British Polluters, and that's just one of the milder ones, there's also "Bad People" and "Broken Promises" and "Bloody Pillagers"). And for those of us who do not spend all day online, there are literally companies cashing in by selling tote bags, shorts and coffee mugs with satirical BP taglines like "We're bringing oil to American shores."
The damage that BP has done to our coastline is incredible. In return, the damage the Internet is doing to BP's brand name is incalculable.