Why Ads Aren't Enough

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

Did you know that a lot of oil tankers are floating just offshore from various refineries, filled to the brim with cheap oil, just waiting for prices to rise so they can get sold at a bigger profit?

That means less availability for shipping oil that’s being sold and used now. More competition for tankers means they command higher prices, which in turn raises the prices charged to consumers and lead to…yup…higher prices for oil. Only then will those tankers start making port, just slowly enough to keep from literally flooding a market that has just gotten more lucrative again.

So tell me again what aspect of our addiction to oil is good for us?

  • As the chief culprit behind global warming
  • With players ranging from Middle Eastern dictators and terrorists, to companies making more money than Midas could have ever touched
  • A pricing model based on the maximum amount of money that can be extracted from each step of the production and sales process, and experts committed to exacting said money
  • And a consuming public (individuals and companies) that feels effectively stuck buying the stuff

This isn’t an industry with a chronic image problem: it is a chronic problem. The image is mostly accurate.

This puts marketers in a difficult position, as oil companies are run by smart, principled people who see the situation, yet mistakenly believe that it can be best addressed by producing the worst sort of distracting, dishonest communications. Marketers and their agencies are all too willing to produce mainstream media advertising and digital campaigns claiming that the oil industry is actively working to get out of the oil business.

No it isn’t.

There are going to be billions upon billions made finding and selling oil 50+ years from now, and anyway, I couldn’t name a single company that plans so far out (let alone commits to things for the back-half of this year). Too many people work in it, with it, or have some sort of dependency on it — from electronics companies whose widgets require power for those always-glowing red "on" buttons, to the folks who make plastic straws for McDonald’s — for the oil business to disappear.

So why not tell the truth?

Oil and gas are what make vehicles run, heat and cool homes, and power the machines in factories that make all of the other things we buy and use (and many of the substances which those things themselves are made of). Only ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and its competitors around the world aren’t in the "energy" or "solutions" business any more than Blockbuster provides "entertainment" (it rents DVDs) or Wal-Mart is in market for "aspirations" (it sells lower-priced good stuff). These companies aren’t trying to fund windmills or harness wave-power, and they haven’t dedicated more than .0001% of their budgets (or employee time) to anything "alternate." 

The thing is, anybody who has an Internet connection and about a nanosecond of time to think about things knows this already. It make all the branding nonsense we see and hear about alternate energy seem so inauthentic, almost in dissonance to the near-constant reminders we get of the tangible reality of the oil business (like tankers waiting offshore to gouge us at the pump).

Now would be the time for the companies to actually do things that matter: crazy, meaningful stuff, like dedicating some percentage of the price at the pump to alternate energy development…reaching out to customers to help (and reward) them for conservation…pass their own sustainable business operations plans, like the ones ExxonMobil recently defeated (resoundingly so).

Then they could talk about the reality of their business, not try to hide or distort it. 

Ads just aren’t enough.

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/03/why-ads-arent-enough.html