BP Games Google

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Last week, BP disclosed that it had spent $93 million on television and print advertising to rehab its image in the months following the Deepwater Horizon disaster. But in less obvious attempt to sway public opinion, the company also spent $3.59 million to appear in Google search ads in the month of June alone, according to a report in Advertising Age.

BP spent almost nothing on search advertising in the months leading up to the spill. But an internal Google document obtained by Ad Age shows that BP drastically increased its spending after the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up in April. By June, BP ranked sixth in search ad spending, behind internet heavyweights like Amazon and Ebay.

We already knew that BP spent big bucks on PR after the spill in hopes of preventing serious damage to its brand. But the figures underscore the importance of web searches in general and Google (which controls 65 percent of US web searches) in particular. Google usually holds its search advertising numbers close to the vest, so this is a rare peek at how much corporations are spending to sway web users. (BP’s spending was small compared to AT&T, which spent $8.08 million in June alone.) It also highlights the lengths to which BP went to control what internet users encountered about the oil spill. Ad Age also notes that the spending indicates that BP probably bought ads on “broad match” keywords, like anything involving the words “oil” or “spill.” From the story:

BP’s increase underscores how important Google has become for reputation management, and in the battle for public opinion. In the wake of the spill, Google was a natural first stop for people seeking information, and BP bought up dozens of keywords associated with the disaster such as “oil spill,” “leak,” “top kill” and “live feed” as it vied for clicks with news stories, images of oiled wildlife and plaintiff attorneys trolling for clients.

“Google has become the remote control for the world; it’s the first stop, not TV,” said Will Margiloff, CEO of Innovation Interactive, a unit of Denstu. “More than any other media, that messaging is requested; people are seeking BP’s answers out as opposed to waiting to be told.”

 

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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