Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Exxon Vision Is Perilously Short-Term

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Exxon Vision Is Perilously Short-Term

Article excerpt

In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler outlined the crucial importance of an 'effective emblem', which he saw as 'the first impetus for the interest in the movement'.

His adoption of the swastika was a vital ingredient in the rise of National Socialism in Germany and its eventual domination of much of Europe. It is impossible, therefore, not to include the swastika, along with the Coca-Cola swirl or the Ford oval, as one of the 20th century's most iconic and important logos.

It is an uncomfortable inclusion. Any sane individual abhors everything the Nazis stood for, yet it is still possible to acknowledge the expert manner in which its brand identity was conceived without supporting the ends to which it was used.

I have similar feelings about ExxonMobil. Over the past eight years, it has masterminded one of the most impressive global communications campaigns in the history of public relations. At the same time, however, the company's success in obfuscating the issues in its response to global warming must surely rank as one of the most shameful exercises in corporate self-interest.

Despite mounting empirical evidence and the overwhelming weight of opinion from independent climate experts, ExxonMobil has managed to sow the seeds of doubt among consumers, the media and governments, thereby slowing any potential responses to global warming. It has achieved this through a combination of masterful PR, lobbying, strategic funding of NGOs and the leadership of its senior management.

In an unprecedented letter of complaint this month, The Royal Society, Britain's most respected scientific organisation, rebuked Exxon for funding organisations that promote a 'misleading' viewpoint and condemned the company's attempts to create a 'false sense ... that there is a two-sided debate going on in the scientific community about global warming'.

In contrast, BP has made concerted efforts to address the problem of climate change. While ExxonMobil only acknowledged the existence of a link between fossil fuels and global warming earlier this year, BP was the first major oil company to do so, in 1997, embarking on a now-famous repositioning that saw it move 'beyond petroleum' and include 'Green' as one of its brand values.

BP has actually executed on that brand positioning, having become one of the top three suppliers of solar energy, for example. It has also pledged to invest pounds 8bn in hydrogen projects designed to capture carbon emissions. …

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