Search any of these phrases on Google: oil spill, BP, or Deepwater Horizon. Take a look at the sponsored link on top of the page. It doesn’t direct you towards, say, an oil disaster recovery group or news about the spill’s impact on the Louisiana economy. In each case, the sponsored link goes to BP’s Gulf of Mexico response page–essentially, BP’s propaganda page about the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
BP doesn’t deny the PR tactic. In an interview with The Fiscal Times, a BP spokesperson admitted that the company has snapped up sponsored links:
“Yes, you’re right, we
have been buying up search terms,” said BP spokesman Robert Wine.
“We’ve tried to pick terms which will help the people who are most
directly affected in the Gulf coast states with information about how
to get in touch with us and make claims for loss of earnings.” Wine said it is
the BP web teams in Houston and London, together with the company’s
marketing executives, who are engaged in buying search terms.
BP has, apparently, bought a large number of search results. In addition to the terms mentioned above, we also found BP sponsored links in searches for “BP cares”, “oil slick”, “fuck BP”, “screw BP”, and “BP stock,” among others. According to an estimate from marketing analyst Scott Slatin, BP is paying at least $10,000 each day to keep its spot at the top of these searches.
While some critics call the move unethical, we don’t see a problem with BP exercising its right to purchase links, especially since they are clearly marked as being sponsored. In any case, the company’s $50 million PR campaign, which also includes numerous TV spots, is unlikely to win any fans. With 141,255 followers and counting on the parody BPGlobalPR Twitter feed, there isn’t much BP can do at this point besides actually cleaning up the oil disaster.
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