Sunday, June 06, 2010

deepwater media

News sensationalism is so commonplace it basically inures me (and I assume many others) from properly appreciating the magnitude of certain events anymore. Nonetheless, the oil gushing into the Gulf as a result of the Deepwater Horizon accident is an environmental disaster, despite what Congressman Don Young seems to think.

In a certain sense, his claim that this is natural may be somewhat correct. But only in a certain sense, and only somewhat. Have natural events led to the introduction of significant quantities of oil into the environment before? Yes, that’s essentially true. And that’s about as close to correct that Young is going to get this time. This is an unnatural disaster. It will get better, but it will take time and it will be costly. Again, it will also get better on its own, but that introduces the question of how long people are willing to wait. After the dinosaur die-off 65 million years ago, things got better too!

For BP, this is most costly because this is a continuing problem. The longer this stays at the top of the news hour and on the front page, the more costly it becomes. Public sentiment gets worse, congressional pressure increases, investigations become both more numerous and drawn out, and more oil-covered formerly adorable animals make their way into plush toy form. Their refinery explosion five years ago has nothing on this accident. A single time event enters the news and now leaves the news very quickly. Sensationalism does occur, but the trade-off is brevity. Maybe it’s an internet era thing, as our nibbling on news seemingly decreases attention spans.

BP only wishes they could be out of the spotlight and tending to the spill containment on their own. Their strategies really wouldn’t change much if no one was watching since the technical aspects of the problem would not change. If anything, at this point, less scrutiny on the containment efforts might help. This is not to say there should not be much more scrutiny on how the accident occurred and what changes will be made to future operations, but only noting that applying too much pressure is not usually a recipe for success. So many ideas have been suggested and the vast majority of them are not practical, too time consuming, nonsensical, or just plain stupid that it has been a needless distraction from more practical suggestions. For now, BP hopes for a less scrutinized existence and in time they will recover (assuming no corporate death penalty). Just look where the Star Wars kid is today.

1 comment:

smallchou said...

From a business perspective, I would be incredibly worried about my brand if I were them. Even without a corporate death penalty for them, I'm failing to remember a case where a company had such a crisis that just did not go away.

You're right, the continuing nature of it is harmful. Most crises happen once, horribly, and then there is clean-up. This one has continued long enough to reach multiple news cycles, to the point where the public is having the perceived ineptitude/arrogance actually reinforced: "Wait, this shit is STILL going on? WTF?!"

It's as if Toyota had a problem with brakes on one model of the Prius, and then every few days (for months) it was announced that another vital part of the vehicle (or other vehicles) were also having issues ("And today, we find out the Camry's windshield wipers will snap, break through the windshield, and stab passengers in the eyes. Oh, and Toyota has yet to apologize.").

You're right, even Jack in the Box recovered from undercooked beef killing several children, but it took years and years. I wonder what happens when a company's brand hammered so continuously for such an extended period of time. Maybe it won't matter for a gas company that relies less (?) on brand loyalty and more on distribution channels and retail location. Maybe?