The tragedy of the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill is unique in a sense that it was a man-made disaster, and possibly the first where so many forms of communication and media were available to BP. Through commercials and the internet, BP tried several ways to “save-face,” or so we thought. We thought it would be interesting to analyze the way in which BP framed their commercials, so we came up with the following research question:
Looking at commercials produced by BP, how did they frame the spill?
To answer this question it is necessary to know: what is framing? Well according to William Gamson, a professor of sociology, “A frame is the central unifying idea of a package, the organizing principle holding together all other elements. The frame sets a dominant perspective that will determine how a media text is interpreted. It serves as an organizing scheme, helping the efficient processing of media content.”
Initially, we had only planned on examining the commercials that aired nationally on television, and collect data from these videos. However, we noticed that BP had a Youtube Channel (youtube.com/bp) focused only on the spill, so we also examined a few of these commercial videos that were produced after the well was fixed. Both a qualitative and quantitative analysis was conducted in order to collect relevant data. The qualitative analysis consisted of watching several commercials, all the same length (1 min.) that were produced by BP. The tone and style of each of these videos was then identified and recorded. Watching these videos allowed us to create a list of keywords (corresponding to both audio and visual (images) present in the commercial) that would be searched for in the nationally aired commercials. The keywords were broken down into 3 categories for images present in the commercial and 7 categories for audio (narrative). The three image categories were: BP self promotion, nature & recreation, and environmental effort. The seven audio categories were: economy, responsibility, BP self promotion, personal interest, disaster related, solution, and technology. These keywords/terms were what we noticed in the other videos as well as words that we expected to appear. The categories were then further broken down into sub-categories that were used as keywords.
For the quantitative analysis, we examined six commercials (all the same length, 1 min.) that aired on national television. Each commercial was watched once without audio, i.e. muted (in order to collect data on the images), and then again with audio. A tally mark was added to the sub-category if it was said or displayed in the image on screen. Words/images that reflected the intent of the sub-category were also marked, i.e. the commercial didn’t have to match exactly the keyword. In some instances, a sound bite/image was added to multiple sub-categories if necessary. This data collection process was completed for each commercial. After watching all of the commercials, the number of marks was summed up for each category. (A quantitative analysis would have been conducted for the videos watched during the qualitative analysis, however, all of the commercials were extremely specific and focused, i.e. two restaurant owners talking about the seafood available at their restaurant. These commercials appeared to be focused for local audiences, while the other commercials were national and discussed the broader scheme of the situation.)
Our hypothesis was that we expected BP to stay away from taking blame, focus on what they’ve done to cleanup the spill area, and to avoid talking about solutions to the oil leak. So were we right? The pie charts below illustrate the results:
From these results, we noticed that BP tried to keep their brand clean by never showing any pictures of how dirty the Gulf had become. They also were very focused on the cleanup efforts they had implemented on the beaches and in the ocean, as well as the number of claims they had paid to businesses. BP completely stayed away from mentioning a solution to the problem in commercials that were produced both before and after the well was fixed. They also stated several times how they were “Making It Right,” but never really explained what that means. BP did take responsibility through paying claims and cleaning the Gulf, but never specifically stated that the spill was their fault.
The seven Youtube videos we watched focused on specific people from the area. Most explained that the beaches, animals, and Gulf of Mexico, were cleaned up. They were also committed to welcoming tourists back to the area, and that the seafood from the Gulf was now safe to eat.
For the most part, our results confirm what we expected to happen. BP never spoke of a solution and only spoke of their cleanup efforts. In a sense they did take responsibility by mentioning that they were paying claims and “Making It Right.”
Obviously this analysis of data is very subjective, in a sense that we only selected the six commercials to take data from and we chose which images and terms to include in the analysis. If we had to do this again and we had infinite time, we would have watched all of the videos on BP’s Youtube page to make a complete analysis of the frames that BP used.