0

Tough sell - Peter Funt

There's nothing, absolutely nothing, that BP could say in an ad that would change my thinking about the oil business or prompt me to buy BP gas. So it's hard to fathom why BP continues to run so many expensive ads in the midst of the unchecked disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

But then, I'm probably as naive about advertising as I am about the oil business. I can't honestly recall ever doing anything at the suggestion of an ad -- except, perhaps, arrive at a movie theater at the proper time. That's a powerful statement considering more than $100 billion is spent on advertising in the U.S. each year.

Not to say all ads are bad. Some, like the radio spots that feature the humorist Tom Bodett have put a smile on my face for years. I love the sappy music, and I enjoy hearing Mr. Bodett say, "We'll leave the light on for ya." But I've never stayed at Motel 6; never even considered it. All the ads have reminded me is that if I ever run into Tom Bodett in a bar I'd like to buy him a drink.

I love the fact that Dos Equis beer has used its ad dollars to identify the world's most interesting person, albeit a fictitious fellow, and I applaud the fact that he's honest enough to say, "I don't always drink beer." It's particularly impressive that these entertaining ads survive despite press releases like the one from Dos Equis Brand Director Paul Smailes that includes in a single paragraph: "strategic understanding of the brand platform," and "strong digital and social media experience."

Ironically, Mr. Smailes uses the very sort of obnoxious PR thinking that seems absent in his commercials, but must be exactly what BP's ad team is talking about. Regardless, I've never tried the beer.

Nor do I buy much Corona, although its ads set some kind of record for televised tranquility. The current batch feature folks on a beautiful beach, never saying a word. In one spot a guy is so blissed out he throws his cell phone into the ocean.

A woman I work with said she really enjoys a Huggies commercial for designer diapers with the tag line: "You'll never look so good pooping in your pants." Would this influence a diaper purchase? No.

My wife expressed fondness for a commercial touting the virtues of cotton, in which the actress Zooey Deschanel wears quirky, slightly retro cotton ensembles. Ever buy anything made of cotton as a result of the ad? Nope.

What's not to enjoy about the Mac vs. PC commercials? My hunch, however, is you're either a PC person or a Mac type, and casting two lovable guys in the roles of digital devices isn't going to change that.

So, what hope does BP possibly have in swaying public opinion by boasting about its attempt to deal with disaster in the Gulf of Mexico by running ads that foolishly state, "our efforts will not come at any cost to taxpayers"? And, the insulting pledge to honor all "legitimate" claims?

Adweek magazine was kind in a headline that reported, "BP's 'Appology' Ad Not a Complete Disaster." The magazine notes that although BP's TV commercial rated "average" with viewers, "many consumers expressed their anger and unhappiness with BP." No kidding.

BP shot its commercial on a pristine beach with no tar balls or oil-coated pelicans in sight. President Obama expressed disappointment that BP would squander time and money on rehabilitating its image at a time when the last thing needed is public relations.

In 1989 when the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, the company spent $1.8 million on a newspaper ad that offered regret, but no acceptance of responsibility. "The accident has been receiving our full attention and will continue to do so," said the ad about the largest spill in U.S. history.

In its current print ad, BP pledges, "We will get this done. We will make this right." One fears that they're talking about developing a successful commercial, not cleaning up the oil. I'm still not buying.

Peter Funt is a writer and public speaker. He's also the long-time host of "Candid Camera." He may be reached at: www.CandidCamera.com. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate.