BP Amoco’s Sir John Browne is one of the world’s most highly
regarded company heads. Since 1995, under his stewardship, the oil giant
has quadrupled its market capitalisation to about pounds 80 billion.
And, in a move which bodes well for the advertising industry, he has
become directly involved in the ad strategy for the company, and was
instrumental in its decision last week to appoint Ogilvy & Mather to
handle its global ad account.
The appointment ended BP’s 12-year relationship with Doner Advertising,
and US-based Amoco’s three-year relationship with Leo Burnett.
It also means that WPP’s two networks will be running global accounts
for two rivals. J. Walter Thompson’s grip on the Shell account has been
growing over the past two years. It has the business in all markets
except the US, where it was handled by O&M. O&M resigned that account to
secure BP Amoco.
However, the clients are, apparently, easy about the arrangement. Raoul
Pinnell, global head of brands and communications at Shell
International, says: ’I’m satisfied they (JWT and O&M) are competing
organisations.’ Pinnell has good reason to say so, having watched the
sparks fly as he gradually shifted Shell’s global account from O&M to
He was less satisfied to discover that O&M had been in top-level talks
with BP Amoco, however. ’I am concerned that it would appear that O&M
was talking to BP prior to resigning the (Shell) account. I’m concerned
about the ethics,’ Pinnell says.
The spark for the BP Amoco review came last year when BP merged with
Amoco. Browne has promised pounds 1.2 billion of savings through the
integration of the two companies and, no doubt, expects some of that sum
to come from hiring a neatly aligned single network.
But the decision to move will also have been driven by Browne’s energy
and ambition for the company; he believes the business can move forward
by changing its advertising agency. Since the beginning of the year, he
has met the industry’s most senior figures, including Bill Muirhead, a
partner in M&C Saatchi, Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, and
Shelly Lazarus, chairman and chief executive of O&M.
Browne’s ambitions seem to have outpaced those of Doner, a relatively
small, privately owned network. The review leaves Doner’s London office,
which was set up as a satellite to service BP, without its main
However, it seems unlikely that the review was driven by any failure on
Doner’s part to develop credible work; the agency’s ’for the journey
ahead’ global campaign has been praised. As one observer says: ’I’m
surprised by the timing of the review. The work Doner Cardwell Hawkins
has done seems to establish a global campaign and a strong
Creating a strong identity for a brown, smelly liquid that costs a lot
and pollutes the environment is no easy task.
As one petrol marketer says: ’The category is low interest, low consumer
involvement. Everyone talks about sexy brands like Orange, but people
fill up with petrol every week, so what’s the big deal?’
Lack of consumer interest in the substance has, historically, led petrol
marketers to sell on price. Insiders say that there is a need to move
the marketing position on.
’We have to find ways of challenging the internal mindset, which says
that people only buy petrol on price. People will pay more if you give
what they want,’ one source says.
Another adds: ’The pressures on the business generally are on the
prices. There is excess capacity in refining and service stations and
this is reflected in (oil companies’) operating profits. The majors are
going to have to change their thing and offer a premium product.’
BP neatly attached environmental issues to its green livery with the
Doner campaign and the introduction of ’cleaner fuels’. But a ’green’
positioning is not enough to sustain a strong global brand. The
protection of the environment is a salient issue in Europe, particularly
northern Europe, but in other parts of the world it is not
’In some parts of the world, the car is seen as economic liberation. In
fact they are offended if we would try to deny them that freedom. And in
the US, if you try to stop people using their car, your life’s over,’ an
industry expert says.
The rebranding of BP Amoco, undertaken by the identity consultancy,
Landor, in San Francisco, also throws up serious brand equity problems.
’There is great affection for the Amoco brand in the States, which will
be a big challenge,’ an executive familiar with the American market
All of which leaves O&M with a difficult task. BP Amoco and O&M were
unwilling to comment for this piece, so the direction the campaign will
take remains a secret.
But O&M must have come up with an impressive strategy to convince BP
Amoco to go with the agency that Shell was gradually rejecting - a point
Pinnell is keen to point out when asked if he is unhappy that O&M is
moving to a rival advertiser. He says: ’O&M doesn’t seem to have any
pride in the work it has done for Shell.’
What O&M does have on its side, however, is the energetic and
entrepreneurial Browne. Since he took over, he has applied a Midas-like
touch to BP Amoco - with that kind of backing, good advertising is very