Big Oil takes message to the Super Bowl
“This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.”
With that commercial pitch in 1988, one of General Motors’ iconic brands targeted younger motorists in a bid to breathe new life into the Cutlass and other Oldsmobile models. Instead, sales declined and GM shut down Olds in 2004.
On Sunday, the American Petroleum Institute will air its first-ever Super Bowl ad with a similar opening line: “This ain’t your daddy’s oil.”
Is there a parallel to be drawn?
Jack Gerard, the president of the leading trade association for the U.S. oil and gas industry, acknowledged that he hadn’t given much thought to the similar approaches to the ads. But after mulling over it for a moment, he said that for his industry, just the opposite is true.
“A short decade ago, no one would have believed that the U.S. would be in the position it’s in today in terms of oil and natural gas production, leading the world,” he said in an interview Friday, referring to breakthroughs in drilling technology that have made shale reserves accessible.
“And people used to believe that there was direct causation between more energy production and environmental degradation. We’ve demonstrated that’s not true,” he added, citing a 25-year-low in carbon emissions in the U.S. in 2016, thanks largely to increased use of natural gas to generate electricity. “Nobody was talking about that five years ago.”
While the industry’s critics may complain that the 30-second spot during Super Bowl LI overlooks the long-term risks to the environment of carbon emissions from fossil fuels, API sees it as delivering a critical message to consumers.
Moreover, the location of the championship game in Houston, commonly known as the “energy capital of the world,” made the ad opportunity that much more appealing to API.
That said, API is no stranger to elaborate ad campaigns, having spent considerably in recent years advocating public policies in support of oil and natural gas at a time of heightened public concern over climate change and growing interest in cleaner forms of energy.
Still, the new ad is splashier than past API commercials, with vivid illustrations of petroleum as a building block for not only motor fuels but also many other things that add luster and utility to life, such as paint, cosmetics, artificial heart valves and lightweight automotive materials. Accompanying the images are messages that oil “gushes art,” “strikes a pose,” “pumps life” and “runs cleaner.”