Bad brand ideas: Gasoline promises to be “terror-free”

Next time you’re in Omaha, Nebraska, take a quick stop by the corner of 129th & Q. There you will see the first location of Terror Free Oil, a new company that promises to only sell “Oil that does not come from the Middle East (Persian Gulf) or other countries whose regimes and/or populations are hostile towards the United States and its allies.” Which basically means the US and Canada, unless the Canadians get uppity. (Why do I think that for most of us the phrase “terror free gas” means it sells for less than $2 a gallon?)

Should you not have the fortune of living in Omaha but still wish to avoid terrifying gas, the TFEC maintains a list of oil companies that it believes only buy domestic dead dinosaur. These include Hess, Sunoco and a wonderful brand that I didn’t even realize was still with us: Sinclair.

I’m not sure exactly how you discern the provenance of petroleum. Does the 2007 Alaskan Sweet Crude really taste different than the same vintage from the Mid East? The TFEC itself admits that it can be difficult to make sure all their gas is devoid of corruption: “Oil is a fungible commodity, and gasoline from the international community gets mixed into the pipeline.” That said they do buy all their gas from Sinclair which the Dept. of Energy says only uses home brew.

Doing some driving abroad and want to top off with Good Guy Gas? In Brazil it’s safe to use Petrobras. Oddly, Yukos has also received the TFEC seal of Clean Living. Are we talking about the same Yukos that the Russian government basically took over? I don’t mean to speak ill of an ethnic group I’m descended from, but if Yukos isn’t paying off terrorists and mobsters to do business then they are the only such business in The Motherland.

Also, if this seems like an incredible business opportunity TFEC is offering the most reasonable franchise opportunities I’ve ever seen. Franchise fee: $1. In addition to only selling Good Guy Gas, franchisees must donate 1% of revenues to a counter-terrorism organization. Dibs on the CIA!

I feel safer already.

Consumerists’ 10 Worst Marketing Mistakes (sort of)

As insomniacs and other long-time readers now, I am a big fan of Consumerist.com. The site does a great job of reporting on consumers’ (mostly but not always) unhappy experiences with companies. If you’re a marketer it’s a must read so at the very least you learn what not to do. All that said, I was dissappointed to read their list of the Top 10 Worst Marketing Gaffes, Blunders & Disasters:

  1. Hindenberg
  2. Edison electrocutes an elephant
  3. Ford Edsel
  4. Tylenol Cyanide Scare
  5. Beatles Yesterday & Today album art
  6. Microsoft Blue Screen of Death press conference
  7. Calvin Klein amateur porno-style ads
  8. Honda robot falls down stairs
  9. New Coke
  10. McDonald’s I’d Hit It

I can come up with a bunch just in the last couple of years that are worse than anything on this list.

  • The Tylenol thing was a PR disaster at first but once it became clear that the poison was the result of an outsider the public pretty much forgot about it, witness the brand’s success since then. The on-going Bausch & Lomb eye wash nightmare is far worse. Last year it was linked to an infection that caused blindness and another batch just cropped up today. This happened because of something in the manufacturing process and the PR response was a nightmare. This could actually destroy the brand.
  • The Microsoft and Honda things were embarassing but no way are they in the 10 worst. I’d put Judy Regan’s OJ book fiasco way ahead of those two if for no other reason than it was a deliberate and planned effort, not just a mishap with the demo of a product.
  • McDonald’s I’d Hit It? Yeah, everyone got a laugh over the misuse of slang for intercourse, but it’s hard to see that as a huge disaster. How about the Vioxx or Ambien stories? Ambien got bushwhacked with a PR problem when Patrick Kennedy blamed it for his renewed drug problem, which wound up being a big plus for rival drugs which could say they were non-addictive. Merck currently faces 27K lawsuits over Vioxx and even if they win every one the brand has suffered permanent damage.
  • Yesterday and Today wasn’t even The Beatles worst PR disaster, let alone one of the top 10 of all time. The band’s worst was John’s comment about being more popular than Jesus.
  • How about BP having its claim of being environmentally friendly blow up in its face when their Alaska pipeline started leaking like the Celtic’s defense?
  • Or how about Enron or even JetBlue’s recent problems or GM/Ford/Chrysler continuing to push SUVs as gas hit $3 a gallon? Or NBC blowing rigging a Ford pickup truck to blow up? Or the great Ford Pinto fiasco?
  • Or KFC and it’s rodent problem?

Kudos to Consumerist for getting historical with Edison and the Hindenberg, but they need to get up to date with their current marketing disasters. You guys are still one of the channels-of-choice for tracking business stupidity, let’s get this list right. Keep the top 3 and the always-wonderful new Coke disaster and replace the rest with some real disasters.

Big Oil’s latest staggeringly dumb PR move

Top executives at oil giant Shell have begun a 50-city tour across the United States this summer in hopes of persuading angry consumers that Big Oil is not ripping them off.

John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Co., and other company execs “plan to meet with everyone from average Americans struggling to pay rising prices at the pump to city officials and governors on their tour.” What exactly to call this tour … Gasapalooza? Monsters of Capitalism? Nasty As They Wanna Be? And who’s the opening act? Maybe the CEO of Merk trying to persuade angry consumers that Big Pharma is not ripping them off?

How rampant is the insecurity over there at Shell HQ? I don’t see any other possible explanation as to why these guys feel it so important to be liked? This is like a crack dealer wanting hugs from his customers.

Speaking as a consumer of oil-products, I find this whole idea more than a little insulting. We’re not stupid, Mr. Hofmeister. There’s no part of the phrase “record profits” that we don’t understand. We all know where those profits are coming from because we all fill up our cars. We all remember when the idea of $3 a gallon gas was impossible to imagine. Not to long ago, gas at that price was supposed to be one of the signs of economic apocalypse.

Hofmeister explained the trip by saying: “These are unprecedented times that require unprecedented responses.” Yes, how about some nice unprecedented silence? Remember your PR strategy: Speak very softly and carry a big profit margin.

My sympathies to whomever is stuck doing Shell’s PR work … I do not think they are responsible for this. Ideas this bad have to come straight from the CEO because otherwise it would have never got off the whiteboard.

There is always a well-known solution to every human problem–neat, plausible, and wrong. — Mencken