Debunking Boycotts

Jackson calling for nationwide BP boycott; NPR report refutes impact of such efforts

CHICAGO -- The Reverend Jesse Jackson, founder and president of The National Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, is calling for a nationwide boycott of BP because he says the company is not moving fast enough to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, reported WBBM. Jackson marched in front of a BP gas station near downtown Chicago on Monday, holding a sign that said, "Don't pay the bill for the spill."

He said, "The birds are already affected. The economy is affected. And the ecology is affected. And now people who have been watching this drama cannot just watch it and be spectators. [image-nocss] It is now time to act. We do not have to subsidize BP's behavior."

Jackson was joined by protesters from the Sierra Club of Chicago, according to the report.

Activist Mark Allen, founder and president of The Black Leadership Development Institute (BLDI) and board member of The Chicago Black Wall Street Project, also joined the press conference, according to his blog. He claimed that about 50 community organization and environmental activists participated in the public demonstration.

Allen said that he will be lending his leadership and mobilization help to Jackson in organizing a larger citizen protest against BP at the same site on May 28.

The Rainbow PUSH Coalition is an organization, the stated mission of which is protecting, defending and expanding civil rights to improve economic and educational opportunity.

Meanwhile, a "Boycott BP" Facebook campaign urging consumers to shun BP stations and its brandsincluding ARCO, Castrol, Amoco, Safeway Gas and am/pm stationshas nearly 95,000 followers, reported NPR. A similar site has more than 3,000 followers.

And the consumer watchdog Public Citizen also has stepped into the fray, with an online petition that asks people to "send a clear message to BP by boycotting its gas and retail store products" for what it calls the company's history of negligence. The group does not normally engage in boycotts but the call to do something in this case was overwhelming, said Tyson Slocum, director of the group's Energy Program.

"We want to punish BP. We want to send a message that a company cannot just purchase an image that it is socially conscious," Slocum told NPR. He noted that Public Citizen's boycott effort is not intended to punish individual gas stations and convenience stores, but rather target corporate headquarters.

(Click here for previous CSP Daily News coverage of BP boycott attempts.)

Twenty-one years ago, the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound led to a one-day nationwide boycott of Exxon stations, said the report. But the campaign failed to dent corporate profits, it said, because most of the stations were independently owned.

Greenpeace, which spearheaded boycotts against ExxonMobil in 1989 and 2002, has not called for similar action against BP after the April 20 Deepwater Horizon rig disaster that killed 11 people. One big reason is that it is hard to hit BP by boycotting individual filling stations, Kert Davies, Greenpeace's point person on the oil industry, told the public radio network.

"It's not as linear as we might like to think," Davies said, although most people assume there is a metaphorical pipeline that runs from BP wells to BP stations. "They don't make a lot of money selling their own gasoline to their own stations."

In fact, BP spokesperson David Nicholas said all of the company's 11,700 U.S. stations have been sold off in recent years and are now independently owned and operated. "We supply the fuels and branding. That's it," he told NPR.

Nicholas added that he is not aware of a boycott-related impact so far on any BP-branded stations.

Even if public ire could be surgically directed at BP, most consumers are only concerned about price when it comes to gasoline, said Lisa Merriam, a branding consultant who has worked with such companies as ExxonMobil and Johnson & Johnson. "People don't pick gas based on brand," she told NPR.

Recent research backs that up, said the report. Market research group NPD's Motor Fuels Index survey released last September found that only 28% of shoppers "always buy one brand of gasoline," and the number has been falling steadily.

As for getting people to focus on nongasoline products at BP's c-stores, am/pm, "that's tough," said Davies. "Suddenly, you have to say that BP is am/pm...[and] you're talking about a shrinking audience the further you get away from the brand they know." If the demands aren't clear, concise and achievable, he added, it is hard to make boycotts effective.

Greenpeace and other advocacy groups think it is more effective to try to roll back offshore drilling than to target individual oil companies, the report said.

BP also will have a tough time repairing its public image, especially because of its efforts to brand itself green, said the report. Since 2000, the company has spent $200 million on a TV and print ad campaign called "Beyond Petroleum" intended to promote BP as environmentally protective. "It was a really risky position to takeit was always a matter of when this was going to happen," Merriam said of the Gulf spill.

John Hofmeister, a former president of Shell Oil and now author of Why We Hate Oil Companies, and who now runs the public policy firm Citizens for Affordable Energy, said he agrees that BP's Beyond Petroleum campaign complicates matters. "They really stepped out on that, and the rest of the oil industry wondered what they were doing," he told NPR. "If everything goes well, you're still just an oil company. If everything doesn't go well, you're an oil company with an even bigger image problem."

(Click here for previous CSP Daily News coverage of Hofmeister's book.)