BP: British Parochialism or British Pariah-ism?

The Gulf oil disaster, as the FT writes today, has painfully exposed BP’s “shortage of native knowledge of America and how it responds to crisis”.

Notice anything about this video?

It’s pretty funny and er, catty — but along with taking a big swipe at BP (and consumers who might rail against the company while continuing to use oil), there’s some rather hammy British accents; not to mention all the marmalade.

The ferocity of the anti-UK sentiment in some of the criticism of BP have even worried the prime minister David Cameron and the country’s Foreign Office, according to The Telegraph.

This is despite the US being perhaps the country most important to BP. A quarter of its production, almost a third of its reserves and more than half its refining capacity and retail outlets are based there, according ING analysts. And about 39 per cent of its shareholders are in the US – almost as big a group as its UK shareholders.

Still, the company’s messaging appears to have missed some of the nuances of US culture. The Christian Science Monitor interviewed a trans-Atlantic marketing consultant, Allyson Stewart-Allen:

Americans want confidence, not self-deprecation.  From a damage control point of view, the situation hasn’t been helped by Tony Hayward apparently not being aware of how Americans receive messages, says Ms. Stewart-Allen, a Californian who also holds a British passport.

“Self-deprecation is something Americans do not do, and for Tony Haywood to say ‘I want my life back’ and to say ‘we don’t have all the tools in the tool box’ is absolutely the wrong thing to say,” she adds.

The company might have its work cut out for it toning down the Britishness of its image; as the FT reports, most of the key executives fronting up to the media about the crisis are British, as is the company’s public relations advisor in the US, Brunswick.  And it’s not helped that even incident commander Thad Allen has referred to the company as ‘British Petroleum’, although that hasn’t been its name since1998.

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