I just finished reading a piece in the NYT by John Kenney called, “Beyond Propaganda“. It’s all about the process of creating the man-on-the street interview ads that made BP seem like it was “Beyond Petroleum”. Get it? B-P? Ha. Anyway…
It’s a great little exposition about something that’s tough to get around in advertising. We (the people on the inside) can be big suckers for a good message just like anyone else. This guy, John, who seems to be a copywriter but I’m not sure, developed the idea behind the ads. I have to admit that I loved them…the whole “carbon footprint” thing was great, and all in all, I’d rather go to a BP station than Shell, given the choice.
But like many of us, John got wrapped up in the mystery and the magic of the brand he was working on. He became obsessed with the enormity of the industry, the power that it possessed. He references the fact that people would actually stop’n'chat about oil companies (an activity which almost everyone finds unpleasant) because they’re actually interested.
The idea that John loved was that BP was actually invested in making the environment better. He drank the Kool-Aid, and he says it best in the following quote:
“Advertising is a funny business. You get to help shape the personalities of huge companies. Most often itâ€™s for cellphone service or credit cards or fast food or paper towels. Rarely are you faced with whether you â€œbelieveâ€ in a product or service. This was different. This was serious. I believed wholeheartedly in BPâ€™s message, that we could go â€” or at least work toward going â€” beyond petroleum.”
John’s fantasy came crashing down recently when he came to grips with the realities of the oil industry as a whole. He realized that nobody’s doing much to change our habits, to help us push beyond petrol. And he realized that his campaign was sadly just advertising.
This is tough, and it really stuck with me because I’m really, really optimisitic about the brands that I work with. I believe that the companies I work with actually want to live up to the personalities that we create for them. And it’s tough when you have to compare the reality of the company with the fantasy of what you want that company to be.
How much authenticity is too much? Just enough?
How much fantastic “reality” is OK to pump into brands and their ads?
I have no idea if there are answers to these problems. But that’s the fun of it, right?