Warning: Your Lip-Smacking Marketing Message Might Ruin Someone’s Appetite

Blackened shrimp served by BP

Blackened shrimp, anyone?

Show of hands. Would you like some blackened shrimp? Yum. Shrimp is delicious and even the thought of blackened shrimp can stimulate the taste buds.

Now what if this heapin’ helping of blackened Gulf Coast shrimp was being served up by BP? Hold on a minute — that’s a different story.

But that’s precisely what flashes across the screen in BP’s new television ad on Gulf of Mexico restoration which also appears on their website. It’s a slick promotional ad to improve BP’s image and paint a happy face on the disastrous effects of the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill that began with an explosion two years ago, on April 20, 2010.

Restoration of the Gulf of Mexico has a long way to go. Phase III of the response activities — containment, countermeasures, cleanup and disposal — was only recently approved on May 9. Locals complain of strange health ailments, contamination, depleted fish stocks, and a crushed local economy. Critics say that BP is dragging its feet on cleanup and restoration. All of this creates a need for the best marketing campaign that money can buy.


So why would BP promote blackened shrimp?

Probably not on purpose. It’s a matter of perception. The company wants to convince visitors that “the seafood is delicious” and everything is getting back to normal along the Gulf Coast. The deck is stacked against BP. Many of us can’t purge the horrific thought of oil gushing from the sea floor, making it difficult to buy into this promotional line.

For the record, the FDA recently reported that Gulf seafood is safe to eat. At the same time, the Associated Press released photos of fish with lesions, sores and other deformities which scientists point to as potential evidence of lingering effects of the oil spill.

Regardless of whether or not seafood is safe to eat, the reference to blackened shrimp in an ad designed to whitewash an oil spill is a careless marketing move. Rather than encourage viewers to move on from the issue, which is the goal of the campaign, the off-message moment only reminds the viewer of the original problem.


How did this happen?

Good question.

Perhaps the marketing department was not paying attention. Perhaps those producing and approving the film are so close to the issue that they do not understand the implications of pairing the dark subliminal message with images of people smacking their lips on Gulf seafood. Could there even be a chance that someone on the video production team was having a little fun and slipped this image in?

The implications are damaging, and it implies that the BP ad department doesn’t understand their target audience.  Do they think people have forgotten? Do they think people will not notice? Is this yet another high-handed attempt by BP to brag about how much they are doing to fix the disaster while ignoring facts that happen to get in the way?


Your messaging needs to be carefully controlled.

Your brand can be damaged very, very easily. Every message you release needs to be carefully considered and viewed through a number of lenses.

Remember how a single mention of blackened shrimp can deep-six the effectiveness of a costly ad. Be careful what you say and how you say it because someone else might hear something completely different.

Most of all, remember that the best way to generate a positive image of your brand is to back up your messaging with integrity and honesty in everything you do.



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