Category Archives: oil marketing

Pull your web site out of the Briar Patch

This week we met with several executives to discuss how to acquire new customers online — the usually mix of offline media, Google, and ad networks pointing to the mission-critical web page. We were met with enthusiasm, plus the common barrier of, well, we already have a web site and the development team is working on it … meaning, nothing may happen for months. Their web site is caught in a Briar Patch.

The Briar Patch, you recall, is the maze of thorny bushes to which Br’er Rabbit escapes in classic Uncle Remus stories. The tale comes from the American South, but actually has its roots deep in Central Africa, from folklore trickster stories in which the rabbit represents someone faced with adversity who uses his wits to beat a snarly puzzle. And if that doesn’t sound familiar, well, you’ve never sat in a web design committee.

The fastest way out of a web tangle, we suggest, is to do what leading companies do — create a simple microsite, test advertising to drive traffic there, and see what you get. Great examples abound among automotive and oil companies, which are falling over themselves to reposition their cars or fuel as environmentally friendly. The benefits of a nimble microsite:

+ You don’t have to reposition the entire company to meet a specific need (“I’m concerned about the environment”)
+ You don’t have to change your entire site to go live (“Hey, look, a clean simple site that links back to the main one”)
+ You attract a self-selecting audience (only people searching for this topic will find the microsite)

Toyota, Chevy and Shell all have “green” microsites. Never mind that some of the claims are simple greenwashing; Chevy, for example, brags that its hybrid Tahoe SUV was named Green Car of the Year for getting 22 MPG highway; you can drop a Duramax diesel stock engine into a Hummer and get 22 MPG also.

Doesn’t matter. These sites attract only auto enthusiasts trying to appease guilt about their carbon-emitting ways. The ads driving traffic appear in online sites targeting affluent, educated, liberal readers (David Pogue’s column in NYT) or in glossy print targeting the same (Harper’s). Only those who really care will find out that Volkswagen offered to offset your carbon footprint.

It’s a good case study in tailoring the message to a subset of your audience. The web is one key to converting specific consumer interests into sales action. You don’t have only one brochure. Why in the world are you hinging your online hopes on only one web site?

Honda Clarity: How to lead a market to product

You’ve heard for years that car engines could be powered by hydrogen — a clean fuel that emits nothing but water vapor. Trouble is, the economy is locked into a petroleum fuel infrastructure, and automakers and energy companies have been caught in a stalemate. Auto producers won’t build cars unless someone can fuel them; energy companies won’t invest in thousands of hydrogen stations unless cars exist to take the fuel.

And so, our cleanest technology lies unused. Sure, your Hummer could get huge torque with a hydrogen engine. But the barriers to entry are just too high.

Enter Honda in 2008. Honda (like other automakers) has been experimenting with hydrogen cars since the late 1990s. This summer, it will begin sales of its FCX Clarity in three cities in California (Torrance, Santa Monica and Irvine, where hydrogen refueling stations now exist). And Honda is also developing a home recharging system for the car, which converts natural gas into electricity (for the home) and hydrogen (to refuel the car). This would circumvent the entire problem of no hydrogen fuel stations, by converting any gas-heated home into your personal Hydrogen Mobil stop.

This last move is most interesting. What if Honda became a global power in providing the energy that runs cars? What if 110 million U.S. households eventually realized, hey, we could put a cheap generator on our house, take us off the grid, and fuel up every morning?

Honda could be moving into a whole new realm of energy provision. Oil companies and other automakers had better pay attention, or they may just be passed out of the new energy loop.

When oil giants turn on a dime

It’s been seven years since BP launched a $200 million rebranding campaign with Ogilvy to turn the world’s 3rd largest oil concern into “Beyond Petroleum,” an eco-friendy, consumer-listening, solar-powered investor that is much more than an oil company. As you’d expect, such claims from an oil behemoth — founded in 1998 by the merger of British Petroleum and Amoco — were met with some derision at first. But BP took a green-and-gold sun as its logo, quickly won PRWeek’s “campaign of the year,” and now — seven years later — the campaign is still going strong.

We think it’s brilliant. Here’s why.

1. BP’s media plan and creative are unwavering. Over 86 months, we’ve seen the same logo, the same brand position, the same yellow highlighted text, the same targeting of higher income consumers (think “investors”) in magazines such as The Atlantic. BP is consistent. It tells the world it is more than oil; it is the friendly environment + future energy. Think about the frequency of impressions. After seven years, you can’t help but begin to believe some of it.

2. BP’s advertising covers every angle. Gas stations in the U.S. were modernized with the green and gold. The very gasoline itself was rebranded, with the middle-grade gas now called “Silver” at BP stations. From the road, the point of sale is inviting, challenging Mobil’s convenience stores-Speedpass-and-clean-bathrooms for busy travelers.

3. It’s ballsy. Come on. Changing the very name from British Petroleum — which sounds aspirational to the U.S. consumers who admire the uppercrust UK — to Beyond Petroleum. Doing so left its core product, oil, behind. Imagine selling that idea to YOUR board.

4. This is so looooong term. The world of oil energy is changing. Heating oil manufacturers in the U.S. are just beginning to toy with 5% grades of bio-diesel, and here in 2001 we have the third-biggest oil conglomerate walking away from its core to focus on solar power and clean energy. Now in 2007, with Al Gore in the news, investors looking toward the Northwest Passage, and Russia planting a flag on the seabed of the North Pole to stake a claim on ocean rights when the ice up there is gone, BP got a jump on the others by recognizing the long-term trend in the market. We need more energy, and we’re looking ahead. And now, we Americans can still feel good about oil.

BP, BP. How could you be so smart?