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Credibility 101: A lost opportunity in a BP message


As fate would have it, BP’s oil spill response message couldn’t have aired at a worse moment. ABC’s Good Morning America featured the story of the baseball umpire who blew the call that cost the pitcher his perfect game (in the record books, that is).

‘It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the (stuff) out of it,’ Joyce said after the game, according to the AP. ‘I just cost that kid a perfect game.’

Ump Admits Blowing Perfect Game June 3, 2010

In a day or so, Tiger fans embraced the ump emotionally for his rigorous honesty and sincere remorse. The game goes on. Baseball survives. Everyone who teaches or studies business ethics or credibility and branding should watch it. (Besides, it’ll pull your heartstrings over baseball of days gone by.)

After this slice-of-life feature, ABC cuts to this commercial break…

Stop :15

We’ve helped organise the largest environmental response in this country’s history.

— Tony Hayward, BP

By noting “this country” with a fine British accent, the credibility of the paid BP message was lost. He* spoke as an outsider describing “our” country as “this country.” It sounds third-party. Which country is he speaking to? If it’s to the U.S., then say so. This, at least, creates something of a bridge to engagement or personalization. “This” is the sort of pronoun you might hear on a taped customer care message.  If BP is too big for national boundaries, then edit copy to mention “the world” or “our world’s” gulf paradise and add some engaging detail.

So, here’s the credibility 101 lesson

  • First step: Add detail that is relevant to your audience from their point-of-view.
  • Second step: Save third-person pronouns for your white papers. Personalize is the only way to engage. If you can’t engage, you’ll never be credible.

The risks and rewards of pronouns

* See? Using the pronoun (“he” instead of Tony or Mr. Hayward) creates distance and leaches warmth from the story.  The “message” (BP’s title for this paid advertising content) lists their CEO simply as Tony Hayward — sound’s kind of warm and transparent when referring to a CEO of a major international organization, doesn’t it?

For your convenience, here’s to help you explore how this issue of credibility continues to play out for BP. Rest assured, the intention isn’t to add fuel to the fire, but to learn valuable business lessons in real time.

What are your thoughts about credibility?

How do you build and maintain credibility in your personal brand or for your clients’ brands? Please post your comments here and share this link with friends. Best!


P.S. This type of news response and branding represents a major new form of advertising messaging. That’s why you’ll find this blog post listed in the Urban Bellwether Clutterbox.

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