Energy Conservation Ads May Not Create Goodwill

Article excerpt

By Kim Foltz Oil companies like Texaco Inc. and the Amoco Corp. are running advertising urging consumers to conserve oil, but some marketing and oil industry executives said these campaigns were not likely to create much good will for their sponsors.

The message of the campaigns is to use less gas, home heating oil and electricity. But some marketing experts and oil industry executives said the oil companies were wasting their time and money if their goal was to change consumer behavior.

``These campaigns aren't going to have any big effect because the public learned all it needs to know about conservation during the last oil crisis,'' said an executive at one oil company who asked for anonymity. ``Price is all the motivation people need to conserve.''

The latest report on oil consumption from the American Petroleum Institute seems to support that theory. Even before these conservation campaigns began, consumption had begun to fall.

Gus Ensz, a spokesman for the institute, said deliveries of petroleum products in the United States fell 4.9 percent in October. The report concluded that the decline indicated a response tk higher prices, Ensz said.

That lesson about price was learned by oil companies during the last oil crisis. After the Arab oil embargo in the early 1970s, the government and oil companies waged extensive conservation campaigns.

Consumption dropped, but primarily because of high prices - as prices later dropped, the public's robust appetite for fuel returned.

Critics of the current ads say the oil companies are using the campaigns as a smokescreen. ``They are simply trying to duck the responsibility for quickly raising prices,'' said Edwin Rothschild, the energy policy director for Citizen Action, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Since the crisis in the Middle East began in August, the prices of oil and gasoline have skyrocketed and the public's opinion of oil companies has plunged.

In large part, oil companies have been running conservation campaigns because they want to appear to be part of the solution, not the problem.

``We hope we will have more credibility with the public because we're urging people to buy less of our products,'' said William K. …

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