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Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51 University of Leeds Press

Sustainable Communication: A Study of


Green Advertising and Audience Reception
within the growing arena of Corporate Social
Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum

Matthew J. Cox
School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, W. Yorkshire LS2 9JT; Tel: 0113 3436461

Abstract
This study explores relationships between green advertising and public perception. It has two aims; to identify
the differences between a recent green advert promoting BP and an earlier non-green advertisement by the same
company, and secondly an experiment to test public perception in relation to these two adverts.
A content analysis of two BP advertisements provided the basis for studying the construction of green adverts
and a convenience sample of 12 A-level students provided the basis for the public perception investigation. These two
methods of data collection were compared and contrasted in order to make final conclusions.
The 'beyond petroleum' BP advertisement used an image orientation structure to re-brand the corporate image
from a traditional oil company into an energy service provider. BP's approach to green advertising had a positive
impact on the way that the focus group perceived the company. The results were then used as an example to verify
previous theory regarding green marketing. It suggested that recent theories into green advertising such as the
dominant social paradigm argument reflected the reality of BP's new advertising strategy the best. The findings had
implications for businesses which want to develop sustainable communication and sustainable consumption in the
future.

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ISSN 1744-2893 (Online)


© University of Leeds
Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51

1. Introduction

The role of the mass media in contemporary society has been a topic of inquiry which has created as
many question as it has answered. The range of subjects that the media has relevance to is a testament to
the complexity of this anthropogenic phenomenon. The urgency with which scientists and society wishes
to know about the media has not diminished in the face of this uncertainty. Violence and sexual content in
the media are but two examples of significant scientific investigations into how products of the media
effect those who consume it. To note that both violence and sexuality are pressing social issues
independent of the media illustrates how highly it's power and influence is regarded. In the ecological
arena as well awareness has begun to build about the nature of mass media technologies, “the speeding up
of time and the shrinking of space through modern communication systems has contributed to major
transformations in the way we view nature” (Anderson 1997 pp1).

The way in which the environment and issues relating explicitly to the environment have been
represented in the media have been continuously evolving ever since the environmental movement came
into being. It is likely that every individual who reads this can recall a particularly high profile media event
that centred around human induced environmental disasters, frequently involving transnational
corporations. The environment has been the focus of some of the most memorable media spectacles of the
last 25 years. Taking this history into account, it is now worth acknowledging how this relationship will
continue into the next 25 years for it is certainly not wholly inappropriate to note that the last decade has
witnessed some significant changes in how the environment is represented and by whom.

The relationship between the corporation and the protester has remained rather constant since the
social revolution of the 1960s in the sense that they have come to fulfil certain roles within the media [You
need to justify this]. Anderson (1997) goes into much detail about the media coverage of events such as the
Brent Spar which pitched the NGO Greenpeace against the oil company Shell. The way in which both
sides used the mass media had a large impact upon how the public responded to the debate which
culminated in the apparent victory of Greenpeace over an oil company. This report considers that this
media representation of the ‘goodies’ versus the ‘baddies’ which has been played out in many
environmental events, has reached an evolutionary period where this traditional distinction is becoming
blurred and increasingly more difficult to justify. The wider social and environmental implications of this
apparent homogenisation of environmentalism and ethical behaviour is the main focus for this report.

This change has probably manifested itself most evidently in the emergence of Corporate Social
Responsibility. CSR is a relatively recent term which encompasses concepts that are by no means new. It
can be defined as “a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their
business operations and in the interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis”, European
Commission, (2003). CSR is broad and is a term that is used to describe a wide range of corporate
behaviour including eco-efficiency, codes of conduct and community investment. Corporate Social
Responsibility has the potential to transform the role of business in society, in practice it can have mixed
results and is often criticised for being incompatible with the contemporary corporate framework.

Corporations have a legal obligation to act in the best interest of its owners therefore any CSR
practice that obstructs the pursuit of profit is stopping a corporation from fulfilling its primary legal
requirement. The economist Milton Friedman said that because a company is the property of its
shareholders, CSR can only be insincere. “Companies can only make a decision that favours the wider
social good if the outcome is also the most profitable one. So, the wider social good can only ever be
incidental to the interest of making profit” Corporate Watch, (2006).

Subsequently CSR has become an opportunity for corporations to manage their public image within
the arena of environmental sustainability; some of the most popular CSR practices are the ones that
become most publicised within the media and if executed properly they can alter a corporation's
favourableness. The media, particularly television shall be used as the stage for the rest of this study to be
played out because – as shall be explored – the media is taking an ever increasing hand in how

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Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51

environmental issues are characterised within society. CSR is as much about constructing abstract
corporate images as well as the tangible action through which CSR is more commonly characterised. This
study does not aim to debunk the moral claims of CSR but instead recognises that corporate image and
media advertising do constitute a significant area of CSR that has previously been overlooked.

Although CSR involves communicating certain ideas to the public there is still a distinct lack of a
linkage between advertising and corporate social responsibility within the context of environmental issues.

Advertising is a significant medium between the corporation and public and is essential in
maintaining a corporate brand image yet there have been significantly less studies into how accurate these
social responsibility claims are and what the wider implications may be. One prime example which will
provide the material for this study was the recent marketing campaign produced by BP and Ogilvy &
Mather Worldwide (SourceWatch, 2001). BP’s strategy of adopting the language of environmentalists and
positioning itself as a socially responsible corporation on the issue of climate change by buying up a solar
company is a clear example of a company attempting to take intellectual leadership of an issue where it
finds itself criticised. This study used two BP advertisements one from 1988 and the other from the recent
green advertising campaign in order to analyse the methods used by BP to communicate it's green
credentials. A test audience consisting of a convenience sample of 12 A-level was used to collect data
about how perceptions of BP changed once they were exposed to the new green advertisement campaign.
The following questions were addressed when conducting the study:

To what extent has BP modified its corporate image to fit green credentials?
What techniques does BP use to position it's new corporate image through it's green advertising
campaign?
From the perspective of audience perception theory does the change in corporate advertising result
in a positive or negative view of the company?

2. Background Context & Discussion

2.1 Introduction

“The ‘beyond petroleum’ advertising slogan was not meant to be taken literally. It is more
a way of thinking,” Lord Browne, BP.

In the introduction the definition of CSR was discussed, it was demonstrated that CSR encompasses
a wide range of corporate behaviour designed to address social and ecological issues raised to prominence
in part by global communication technologies. It has also been noted that CSR as a word has come to
represent a part of modern society that does not just include new forms of business management but also a
growing awareness among consumers and business alike that previously has not existed. The purpose of
this literature review is to place CSR within the wider context of society and to explore its significance as a
new mode of conciousness. Consequently, the study will come to focus on green advertising and the level
of interest that it has received from academic researchers.

2.2 Corporate Social Responsibility and public perception

Presently the emergence of CSR particularly with corporate image and advertising has resulted in
much skepticism about credibility and intention with a large number of the general public preferring to
believe that CSR is more technically than morally motivated. The leading article for the green edition of
the Journal of Advertising, written by Zinkman & Carlson (1995) recognised the dangers associated with
business shifts towards CSR noting the irony that the emergence of green consumer markets was also
closely linked to anti-corporate attitudes. There is a variety of evidence to show that the adoption of CSR

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Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51
claims and practices has been met with resolute cynicism; a quote from a recent New Internationalist
publication highlights a common trend within UK society to consistently be suspicious of corporate
behaviour.

“the rapid conversion of big business to all things ethical is not just about exploiting a lucrative new market and
making efficiency savings – it is also a self preservation strategy. As the science of climate change has become
undeniable... how to avoid being broken up, regulated, eco-taxed, boycotted? Be one step ahead of the game
and show you're doing the right thing without the need for government to resort to any extreme, potentially
profit-curbing measures.” (Worth, New Internationalist, 2006: 3-4.)

Establishing the presence of public doubt and cynicism over CSR is elementary with evidence of
corporate mistrust leading back to the middle of the 20th century. Ottman (1998) confirms that the cynical
viewpoint relating to CSR is justified stating that the emergence of green advertising was a result of
increasing amounts of pressure exerted on companies that were perceived to be damaging. Anderson
(1997) illustrates the historical relevance of the relationship between public doubt and corporate behaviour
with the emergence of large publicity battles between NGOs and TNCs received by the public via the mass
media. Anderson's point is interesting because it lays the foundations for linking environmental
communication to wider media and cultural theory. The example of the Brent Spar oil platform is used to
show the success with which Greenpeace's media campaign was adopted by a large number of the
European population, eventually pressuring the oil company Shell to abandon plans to sink the oil rig at
sea. The reasons why the public responded in the way they did Anderson argues, was because of the well
established cultural values that existed around polluting the sea. This was in part facilitated by the media
presence of NGOs such as Greenpeace and was catalysed by the lack of trust in TNCs. These cultural
values are not just reduced to the particular environmental issue of polluting the sea but extend into a
holistic realm suggesting that there is a wide environmental conciousness embedded within culture and
society. Theorists such as Ulrich Beck and Bjorn Lomborg have but forward similar ideas which reach the
same conclusion that communication technologies have enhanced society's awareness and perception of
risks, known as the 'risk society'. This new awareness is linked closely to perceptions of trustworthiness
which in the 1990s gave rise to the apparent two sided battle over some environmental issues between the
NGOs representing social justice and the TNC representing economic greed.

One of the main reasons attributed to the success of NGO groups during these media events was
simply that they possessed a type of imagery and discourse which resonated with public opinion at the
time. “Greenpeace has always been inherently fascinating and news-worthy as far as the media are
concerned. It presents them with totally pre-packaged, simplistic but very powerful images of
confrontation that were very new and exciting.” (Gallie cited in Porritt & Winner 1988 pp. 94). This is
interesting because it suggests that the importance of images within the mass media have a significant
impact on the way in which environmental issues are represented. People's views of the environment are
influenced by the images and messages that they see on television just as much as other social encounters
they experience from day to day (Lomborg 2001). In the 1990s NGO's possessed the correct image to
appeal to a public audience; but this image has arguably only been successful with the antithesis of the
corporate greed image completing the media spectacle of clashing morals. This binary relationship between
pressure groups and big business has not remained static however and in the past decade the rise of CSR
and green advertising has demonstrated a concious attempt by businesses to appeal to the ecologically
concious population. Although Anderson does not point this out, she does observe that pressure groups
had become more professional towards the end of the 1990s opting out of the more radical 'mediagenic'
behaviour they had been so famous for previously. This was attributed to a rise in membership, income
and also a growing amount of experience in the political domain. As pressure groups have become more
compliant and less radical big business has followed suit by becoming environmentally literate and more
prepared to engage in sustainable discourse. This is no less true for BP who within four years had resigned
from the Global Climate Coalition to spend $200 million on the 'beyond petroleum' marketing campaign.
Within the past decade both camps have seen the beginning of an evolutionary process within the realm of
environmental discourse and sustainable communication. These two noticeable changes have occurred
almost simultaneously but it is still quite unclear what sort of differences this signifies in public perception.

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Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51

Green corporate behaviour is becoming increasingly more widespread yet how this is turned into a
profitable marketing technique is still relatively unknown.

It would not be foolish to assume that the test audience response to the BP advertisements would
reflect this historic pattern, however the case of green advertising is not as simple as assuming that public
reaction would be negative. A public survey carried out by MORI (2004) illustrates the complexity behind
CSR and public perception a decade on from Anderson's book. Figure 2.1 shows that the public view
between business and NGOs has remained consistent, yet still over half of the respondents claim that they
would to some extent believe information published by a company. Figure 2.2 shows that 47%
respondents actually thought that corporations could respond more to public concerns of social
responsibility. This shows that public attitudes reflect a consumer demand for business to be more
proactive in communicating CSR to the potential customer even if the integrity of the claim was in doubt.
There appears to be contradictions in research carried out into CSR but public scrutiny of corporate claims
still seems to exist for good reasons. This is evidenced by previous studies into green advertising which
show that consumers have suggested the least credible source for environmental information is an
advertisement by a major corporation (Iyer and Banerjee 1993). A content analysis survey conducted by
Carlson, Grove & Kangun (1991) found that 58% of environmental advertisements sampled contained at
least one misleading or deceptive claim.

Figure 2.1: MORI Survey (2004)

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Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51

Figure 2.2: MORI Survey

Figure 2.3: MORI Survey (2004)

This leads to an almost paradoxical situation whereby public demand for CSR is at the same time
contradicted by a continued lack of trust in corporate claims. It is therefore extremely valid to conduct a
study in this area of social studies since there is a lack of clear evidence for assessing the impacts of CSR on
public perceptions. Figure 2.3 provides definitive evidence that the increasing use of green corporate claims
in advertising is almost certain to have an impact on consumer behaviour in the future.

“Improving communication of companies' responsibility to consumers (especially at the point of purchase), or


even integrating responsibility messages with mass marketing, may help to close the gap. Three-quarters of the
public agree to some extent that their purchase decisions would be influenced if they had more information on
companies' ethical behaviour.” (Dawkins, 2004)

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Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51

It seems that effective communication remains a missing link in the practice of CSR, especially to
mass audiences. Although nearly nine in ten of the public maintain that the communication of a
corporations green activities is important, an awareness of this activity remains limited. Using BP's
advertisements as an example will help to measure the success of its environmental communication. Only
around 30% of the public can name a particular company helping society or the environment, and only
30% can name a company they consider to be particularly socially or environmentally responsible (MORI
2003).

2.3 Green advertising: defining the concept

Having discussed the contemporary position of CSR it is now necessary to compare the research that
has been done into the nature of green advertising in particular. Interest in green advertising has existed
since the 1970s but it is not until the 1990s that there has been a more dramatic influx of green claims in
advertising and similarly a growth in interest from researchers (Killbourne 2004). At present research into
green advertising and consumerism has been conducted for a sole purpose, to improve future market
strategies and ways of influencing consumer perceptions more successfully. This is understandable since
the realm of green marketing has had to compete with widespread public skepticism making it challenging
to pitch advertising campaigns in the right way. This relatively high level of interest from market
researchers has meant that a good set of theoretical principles have been established making it easier for an
environmental studies based approach to negotiate the pitfalls of advertising research. The focus of
advertising research is varied, and a lot of time has been put into identifying audience demographics or
green behaviours in order to pinpoint target groups with more effectiveness. Largely few patterns have
been found between socio-demographics and green consumer behaviour; any findings that do suggest a
pattern have more often than not been contradicted elsewhere (McDonald & Oates 2006). Nevertheless
there is much material concerned with the classification of different types of green advertising and a little
related to how audience's can respond to these various types. No concise definition exists for green
advertising although for the purposes of research into the subject some criteria have been suggested. One
of the most tangible of these criteria can be found in a study conducted by Banerjee et al. (1995). Green
advertising is defined as any advert that meets one or more of the following criteria:

1. Explicitly or implicitly addresses the relationship between a product/service and the biophysical
environment.
2. Promotes a green lifestyle with or without highlighting a product/service.
3. Presents a corporate image of environmental responsibility.

Perhaps the most revealing definition of green advertising fundamentally recognises it in a two tier
form. This two tier approach considers green advertising as being green with a 'g' which signifies the
technical perspective approach and green with a 'G' which takes into consideration the wider concepts of
sustainability. (Dobson cited in Killbourne 1998). The notion of different levels of green advertising or
'shades of green' has been visited by many other researchers (Carlson et al. 1995, Banerjee 1995, Obermiller
1995, Killbourne 1998, Killbourne et al. 1998, MacDonald & Oates 2006, Killbourne 2004) and this is
instrumental in understanding the contemporary implications of green advertising. The Dominant Social
Paradigm argument is used to characterise the progression of green advertising from the purely managerial
purpose towards the greater social good. The primary obstacle to true Green advertising is that
corporations remain embedded within the existing social framework or DSP, and cannot escape green
advertising as a purely profiteering endeavour (Killbourne et al. 1998). The DSP argument is perhaps the
most extensive study into green advertising as it places it within the wider context of political and social
theories. This failure to engage critically with environmental issues is something that is considered to be at
the heart of anthropocentric perspectives and it can be attributed to societies desire to break free from
biological determinism (Martell 1994). The fact that Killbourne (1998) has linked these wider issues to
green advertising has given the subject renewed significance and has opened up the possible routes of
inquiry which were previously limited to management or corporate efficiency. This is reflected in the fact

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Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51
that the majority of marketing research into green advertising has been motivated by the prospect of
improving market efficiency instead of aiming to engage seriously with the holistic concepts of

sustainability. Approaching this subject from an environmental studies perspective is an avenue through
which this problem can be addressed. The green advertising facet of CSR has the potential to
communicate new sustainable types of business to consumer relationships rather than it just being a reflex
for the emergence of green consumer segments.

A content analysis performed in 1995 aimed to test television commercials and newspaper print to
see if any conclusive characteristics could be observed from the approaches used by advertisers. The
conclusions of the study indicated that there were three dimensions to green advertising: sponsor type (for-
profit and nonprofit), advertisement focus (whether the advert focuses on the advertiser or the consumer),
and depth of advertisement (shallow, moderate, or deep, depending on the extent of environmental
information mentioned). The majority of advertisers in the study attempted to project a green corporate
image rather than focusing on the environmental benefits of their product or service (Banerjee et al. 1995).

The approach to classifying green advertising in marketing research has experienced much
development from the initial studies into identifying audience demographics. Recently much more interest
has been placed on classifying the different types of green advertisement which has generally found that
green adverts based around corporate visual identity have become more widespread. Earlier types of green
advertising have rather focussed on particular green products (Killbourne 1998, Killbourne et al. 1998).
This shift in how corporations pitch green advertising could be attributed to the growing need for business
to respond to integrated sustainability as opposed to marketing green products for green consumer
segments. However advertising a corporate image over a particular product increases the possibility of
'green washing' a term used for inaccurate or misleading claims. Carlson et al. (1995) used a matrix method
approach to classify green adverts in exactly this way. They provide a comprehensive method for
identifying how a green advert is constructed. The limitation with this approach is that identifying elements
of 'green washing' on an observational basis lacks empirical integrity. Research that focuses on observing
misleading or false claims in green advertising is a more complex affair that requires high levels of certainty
and are also rendered irrelevant if a researcher wishes to test public perception.

2.4 Green advertising: public perception

Research focussed on quantifying public perceptions of green advertising has been plagued with
more difficulties than other approaches to the subject. Audience related research has been concerned
largely with improving the effectiveness of existing advertising rather than having a social science
perspective in mind. Trial and error has established that finding links between consumer behaviour and
purchasing habits is unlikely to yield any relationship. However some researchers who have acknowledged
this fact have attempted different techniques for observing audience perception.

Corporate visual identity plays a crucial role within green advertising since more companies are
adopting this approach rather than focussing on their tangible products. It seems that making a purchase
from a socially responsible company is just as important to a consumer than just buying products that have
ecological features. Research has shown that how advertisers communicate ecological issues to their
audiences it crucial in how it is perceived and acted upon. The baby is sick/the baby is well model devised
by Obermiller (1995) demonstrates this using the analogy of a baby. “The sick baby” approach represents
an issue as being serious or of personal threat to the audience. This heightened threat level can increase the
salience of an issue and therefore the amount of attention it receives or how memorable it may be in the
future. This approach bears similarities to the Greenpeace media coverage discussed by Anderson (1997).
However using the sick baby approach has been found to reduce perceived consumer effectiveness (PCE)
apparently smothering the perceived sense of individual empowerment. In contrast “the well baby”
approach focuses on how individual actions can help to reduce or solve a particular problem effectively
having the reverse effect on PCE Obermiller (1995). This approach is also shown to be more compatible
with highly perceived risks like global warming or GM food. The latter of these approaches is likely to be

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Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51
more compatible with green advertising since the association between individual empowerment and
purchasing the product is easy to make.

Edell and Burke (1987) provide some important factors to consider when attempting to conduct a
study into public perceptions. Consumers form feelings and judgements or cognition when exposed to an
advertisement which affects their attitude towards the ad and beliefs about the corporate image. When
observing consumer attitudes towards an advertisement, it is stated that it is important to distinguish
between two separate measures that is the cognitive evaluations or judgements and feelings experienced
from exposure to the advert. Feelings are properties of the individual while cognitive evaluations tend to be
properties of the advertisement, and consumers are more likely to agree on whether an ad is credible than
to agree on how the ad makes them feel. Nevertheless, feelings conveyed by an ad not only influence the
attitude towards the ad but also affects the consumer's evaluations of the brand (Edell & Burke, 1987).

What this literature review has conveyed is that research into green advertising has largely been
undertaken within the marketing realm and up until recently with little interest from other fields. This
means that large proportions of green advertising knowledge does not serve the purpose of an
environmental studies based approach. However there has still been a considerable amount of exploration
into the topic which has highlighted some important facts which help to facilitate new understandings of
what green advertising signifies in the wider societal context. There has been very little time spent studying
green advertising from the perspective of ecological based disciplines due to the inherent nature of the
subject itself. Nevertheless the concept of Anderson's (1997) book and Killbourne's (1998) DSP argument
shows that there is a value in uniting mass communications with environmental studies and more
importantly it demonstrates that there are emerging perspectives to this study, some which have not been
approached before.

3. Research Design and Methodology

3.1 Overview of Methodology

The initial phase of the data collection design used a content analysis approach to quantify the nature
of the selected advertisements which could later be compared. Television adverts were seen to be better
suited for this investigation rather than print adverts because socio-economic variables factor more highly
for newspapers and magazines than television commercials. The main focus of the content analysis was to

select the manifest units of the adverts, that is, the features that were explicitly identifiable for example
language, visual content, timing and editing techniques. This was the most important aspect of the content
analysis in so far as these units could be measured to an empirical standard and were therefore more
reliable. Secondary to this, a further analysis of the adverts aimed to identify the latent units or the units of
meaning, those aspects which were less tangible such as syntactical, referential, propositional and thematic
units (Krippendorff 2004). Focussing on the way that meanings are constructed through the use of imagery
and language is the predominant goal of observing the latent content of media texts, which bears some
similarity to semiotics (Abelson, 1959). Unfortunately the value of such studies are contested strongly in
social science literature as not producing solid scientific conclusions. This is an important criticism to make
as analysing adverts remains a tenuous endeavour, one which may not yield reliable results. Nevertheless a
holistic approach to analysis is important because applying a wider variety of collection techniques was
favourable as long as the limitations were recognised. Content analysis does have drawbacks like many
methodological approaches and the second part of the data collection aimed to address this. Allegory is an
important part of any visual advertising so its identification was valuable in highlighting areas that a purely
empirical analysis could miss altogether. Unless a content analysis of a media text is accompanied by some
form of audience reception analysis then inferences about how an audience reacts to advertising messages
could not be made (Anderson 1997).

The second part of data collection was the more extensive aspect of the study as it was likely to yield
a larger amount of data. A convenience sample of 12 A-level students was used for a focus group

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Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51
experiment. Since this research paper is concerned with effects as well as just content, this half of data
collection focussed on the audience reception of the advertisements in question, using star diagram

questionnaires and a group discussion. Again, measuring media effects has been criticised in the past as
detracting from empirical techniques however due to intense interest in this field, some reliable empirical
methods have come to be widely accepted. This experiment aimed to build on previous audience sampling
conducted by Schuhwerk & Lerkoff (1995) and Obermiller (1995) who used larger test audiences to
determine that certain types of appeals in green advertising work better on a wide audience than others.
Using this previous knowledge and content analysis of the BP commercials it was possible to use the
sample of students to draw conclusions about how BP's change in corporate image effected their
perception of the company.

Consequently the following hypothesis questions were formulated to test the outcome of the two
methodologies:

H0 – A change in BP's advertising strategy to promoting green credentials will be reflected in a change of
the audience's response to that company.
H1 – This change in advertising technique will result in a more negative audience perception of BP as a
company.

3.2 Content Analysis Justification and Formulation

Traditionally content analysis uses large data sets, typically of print based media or frequent television
broadcasts in order to identify running themes and measure ratios of content. In the Journalism and Mass
Communication Quarterly a quarter of all research analysed content between 1971 and 1995 (Riffe &
Freitag, 1997). Research into green advertising is no exception with large data sets used in many studies
(Carlson et al. 1993, Wagner and Hansen 2002, Banerjee et al. 1995). Due to the temporal limitations of this
relatively smaller research paper, the quantity of material needed to perform a reliable analysis could not be
collected and interpreted in the time frame. Nevertheless it is recognised that some form of content
analysis is essential to provide basic structural information about the two BP commercials. Without such
information the subsequent audience response experiment would have a limited potential for
interpretation. A large number of communication research conducted uses simple frequencies, proportions
and means to clarify the findings (Krippendorf, 2004). As this study aims to use previous findings to
reinforce it's own findings, a simple frequency based content analysis was sufficient to use.

The purpose of this study is to establish that there is a difference over a time period of BP’s
representation of the environment and then to identify how this difference in representation has been
constructed. A study conducted by Carlson et al. (1993) Peattie, 1998) used matrix method approaches to
organise a variety of green advertising on US television. This study established the 'Five types of
environmental advertising claims' to classify how green commercials were likely to be orientated.

The main aim of the content analysis was to gather a sufficient amount of empirical data to illustrate
the different representations of the environment between a BP advert from 1988 and from the ‘beyond
petroleum’ campaign of 2000. A content analysis was necessary for such a study because of the depth of
analysis that it would provide. Analysing the content in an empirical fashion would uncover the
mechanisms behind the construction of the adverts, which was likely to reveal a complex set of drivers
despite the limited amount of advertising material. This study took into account the value of making
inferences to gain a deeper insight into the meaning of environmental representation. The initial phase of
the content analysis required the study units to be defined. In any content analysis study units should be
established so that the content can be systematically selected and recorded. A transcript of both adverts
was recorded as well as a codebook to measure the difference in editing techniques. Editing techniques
have been found to relate explicitly to the way that audiences react to visual media. Research has found that
the pacing of television can increase an individual's physiological arousal and is therefore a significant factor

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Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51
in how they are likely to respond to types of visual media (Neuendorf 2002). All of these factors were
incorporated into the content codebook.

The codebook was designed to measure the adverts in their uses of narration, editing, product
representation and characters. All of these areas were coded so that they could be easily identified and
recorded. A transcript of both advertisements was also created to concentrate further on the use of
language within both of the advertisements because it was expected that language would be closely linked
to how BP produced its green advertisement.

3.3 Focus group Justification and Formulation

The focus group used in this experiment was a convenience sample as is common with experimental
work (Zinkman and Carlson 1995). Although this type of sampling would not provide an accurate cross
section sample of likely target audiences it was effective enough to provide a clear idea of how individuals
react to green advertising. The format of the experiment fell into two categories. The first required each
member of the focus group to complete a binary star diagram method before and after each advert was
shown to record how the their perception of the company changed as the advertisements were viewed
(Stiff, 2002). This was a simple way of recording previous expectations of BP and subsequent judgements
based on the information presented in the adverts. The star diagrams used a variation of the Fishbein and
Ajzen (1991) attitude model to allow the focus group to easily attach specific dispositions towards BP.
These were divided into four main areas labelled honesty, credibility, favourableness and democracy.
Honesty was selected to represent how honest the company BP was seen to be. Credibility was slightly
different as this represented how credible the advertising claims appeared. Favourableness required the
focus group to specify how much they would prefer BP to other oil companies. Democracy required the
focus group to specify how much BP appeared to be listening and responding to public interests.
Simultaneously, the focus group was required to complete a set of questions asking them to express their
feelings and judgements about the advertisements in a more extensive and detailed way. The experiment
was then concluded with a 15 minute discussion about the commercials, led by the class tutor. The purpose
of this discussion was to allow the focus group to express their reactions verbally so that areas of
significance could be identified. When conducting advertising effects research it is essential to acknowledge
that individual's response under experiment conditions are effected particularly by their exposure to recent
activities or events. Therefore the study was conducted at the beginning of the day to minimise this
possibility. To reduce this variable further the focus group was split into two groups, one representing the
control experiment and the other group who were exposed to a newspaper article from the New York
Times which criticised the green BP advert campaign. This also aimed to reduce the possible variables
relating to the individuals green attitudes and behaviour.

According to Kilbourne (1995) and Zinkman (1995) when attempting a study into the nature of
audiences and consumers, collecting information about behaviour, particularly green behaviour it is likely
that such information will not be reliable. They go on to point out that “there is every reason to believe
that green attitudes will not be strongly linked to green behaviours” Zinkman (1995). Furthermore there is
little evidence to suggest that any reliable link can be made between which types of green advertising will
elicit certain attitudes or behaviours. Therefore the purpose of using test audiences in this piece of research
was not directed toward this end but instead quantified the test audience's feelings and judgements about
the adverts. Essentially this is a more relevant approach in uncovering how BP's advertising campaign
affects the audience since this is not a study into consumer purchasing habits.

4. Results

4.1 Introduction

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Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51
This section presents the various results and findings from the experiments. The results shall be split
into two sections one will deal with the results relating to the content analysis and the second shall discuss
the findings from the star diagrams and focus group. Subsequently because both are related to each other
an additional section will aim to bring the findings together in a comparative evaluation to reach the holistic
conclusion.

Using a range of theories that have been explored in the literature review (Besley & Shanahan 2004,
MacDonald & Oates 2006, Obermiller 1995, D'Souza & Taghian 2005 and Carlson et al. 1993) it has been
possible to characterise the approach to green advertising used in the 'beyond petroleum' advertisement.
The comparative content analysis has enabled the differences between BP's pre-green advertisement and
their new green campaign to be abundantly clear. The focus group has aided the translation of these
differences into audience perception data. This means that the results collected for this study are process
orientated, concerned with structural media content through to audience response analysis.

4.2 The Content Analysis

In the study conducted by Carlson et al. (1995) into green advertisings themes and effects, it was
identified that green advertising is multi-dimensional and that these categories would have varying levels of
credibility among an audience or consumer. The first suggests that green credentials assigned to the
physical product are a popular approach for companies, for example 'this product is eco-friendly'. The
second category represents development of a green corporate image which does not necessarily manifest
itself as a commodity but rather through the values and behaviour of the corporation. The content analysis
of the 'beyond petroleum' showed that no association at all was made to BP's physical product but instead
54% of the 30 second advertisement was devoted to displaying text relating to the values and behaviour of
the company. The 'on the move' commercial aired in 1988 contained a significant amount of screen time
connoted toward fuel and the consumption of fuel. Also being 30 seconds it contained vehicles or petrol
stations in over 90% over the screen time of the commercial; the remaining 10% was used for displaying
the logo and delivering the company name. The editing techniques of the adverts support the conclusion
that BP had de-emphasised its actual product, showing that the 'on the move' advert used long to mid
range shots picturing a man in a petrol station where as the 'beyond petroleum' advertisement did not put
visual emphasis on its product at all. If the 'five types of environmental advertising claims' are considered
then the percentages calculated above show that the 'beyond petroleum' campaign falls into the category of
'image orientation' (Carlson et al. 1993). It could also be classed as including 'process orientation' and
'environmental fact' because it mentions the purchasing of BP solar however this constitutes a fraction of
the commercial and it is unlikely that any green advert would be based solely on just one of these categories
anyway. This change in product representation is a significant finding in this research because it
demonstrates a concious attempt to direct attention to a different subject matter.

There was also a significant difference between the quantity and frequency of screen editing between
the two advertisements. The 1988 'on the move' advertisement contained 19 screen changes within 30
seconds and the 'beyond petroleum' advertisement contained 5 screen changes in the same amount of time.
Screen editing can have a many effects depending upon the type of media in question. Links have been
made between violent behaviour fast screen editing but this also suggests that increased screen editing is
more commonly associated with action genres because faster paced editing results in heightened levels of
excitement in the audience (Neuendorf 2002). The 'on the move' advert used a more cinematic style than
the 'beyond petroleum' advert and this was also noted by the focus group.

Another significant find of the content analysis involved the representation of characters in both
adverts. The 'on the move' campaign focussed solely on representing a white male demographic whereas
the 'beyond petroleum' advert included multi-ethnic and female demographics including the use of a female
narrator. Although research into gender and environmental advertising has been inconclusive this is still
evidence to suggest that BP had attempted to reach a wider audience in the more recent advert. This was
also reflected in the focus groups response to BP's democratic integrity. The use of a vox populi approach
to the second advert may also have played a role in influencing this perception.

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Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51

It would be expected that this noticeable change in BP's approach to it's advertising structure would
have a framing affect on the focus group when once they have been exposed to both commercials. Due to
the intense focus of the 'beyond petroleum' on global warming the audience would be more inclined,
according to Durfee (2006) and Besley & Shanahan (2004) to concentrate on this issue when completing

their responses during the experiment. With reference to the MORI poll in figures 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3 the
audience were more likely to be skeptical of this type of information in a corporate advert. The commercial
from 1988 would be less likely to illicit cynicism since it did not make green claims although whether or not
the focus group would mention environmental issues relating to global warming before they viewed the
second advert remained to be seen.

4.3 The Perception Star Diagrams

During the focus group study the audience was required to complete star diagrams synchronised with
viewing the adverts. One was completed before any viewings had taken place in order to measure their
original disposition towards BP and then two more successive diagrams were completed after viewing each
advert. The results of the star diagrams are illustrated below in figures 4.1 and 4.2.

Mean Corporate Perception

No Viewings

Honesty
Credibility
After Advert 1
Democracy
Favourableness

After Adverts 1 &


2

0 1 2 3 4 5
Disagree/Agree
Figure 4.1: Mean corporate perception arranged in chronological order

44
Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51

Mean Corporate Perception

Honesty

Credibil-
ity No Viewings
After Advert 1
After Adverts 1 &
Demo 2
cracy

Favour-
ableness

0 1 2 3 4 5
Disagree/Agree

Figure 4.2: Mean corporate perception arranged by type

These charts illustrate clearly that the 'beyond petroleum' campaign had a significant impact on the
way in which the focus group perceived BP by the end of the session. The perception about how
democratic BP are is the most significant change but honesty and favourableness were also highly
influenced. Credibility did see a change but the difference did not appear to be as drastic. The charts show
the perception of the focus group on average was affected positively by viewing the advertisements. The
individual written and verbal responses to the advertisements shall now be discussed in relation to these
charts so that these changes can be discussed with more depth and context.

4.4 The Focus Group

The focus group was conducted on December 18th at 10am and took 50 minutes to complete
including a 15 minute intensive discussion to conclude the session directed by the group tutor. The
response from the focus group was considerable and a lot more written material was collected in relation to
the verbal input gathered at the end. The questions were designed to differentiate between their feelings
towards the adverts and their cognitive evaluations (Edell & Burke 1987). The results showed that there
was a significant difference between how the focus group responded to both advertisements. The
responses to the 'beyond petroleum' advert was much more extensive than the 'on the move' indicating that
the second advert provoked the audience to contemplate issues outside of the actual advert i.e. Global
warming. The first advert, made in 1988 prompted a more superficial response where the focus group were
making more judgements based on the visual appeal of the advert as opposed to relating the company to
wider social issues. In general the responses to BP's greening were positive and this is reflected in the

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Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51

results from the star perception diagram yet although BP was seen in a more positive light after the
experiment there was still some doubt among the audience as to the credibility of the content.

The written responses to the adverts were simply analysed for content to identify running themes in
the adjectives the individuals used to describe both adverts, a compilation of the most common words that
occurred more than once is reproduced below:

1988 'on the move' advert


Superior, global/globalised, unrealistic, cheesy, action, large scale, pride, quality, impressive, grandure,
triumphant, superficial, uplifting, fake, important, big, powerful, reliable, popular

2000 'beyond petroleum' advert


Aware/awareness, concern/concerned, factual, care, accountable, simple/simplistic, tranquil,
knowledgeable, 'green', change, naturalistic, togetherness, informing, healthy, eco-friendly, honest

The perceptions of what the adverts represented about the company were reinforced during the
verbal feedback, where many of the students repeated what they had recorded on paper. There was a clear
consensus among the focus group about what they felt the first advert was trying to achieve. This became
very apparent during the discussion as many of the students agreed that BP was a large global company
even if they hadn't been previously aware that BP supplied fuel to industrial vehicles. Student A remarked
that “the advert is trying to bring everyone together for one product”, “It shows that BP is part of the
underlying infrastructure of society”. Many other comments complemented the idea that BP was a
globalised corporation that reinforced the operation of the modern world. Also much emphasis was placed
on the visual techniques used in the first advert, there was an acknowledgement that at the time of the
advert, the Hollywood style special effects would have had a distinct appeal to the audience.

In the case of the 'beyond petroleum' advert there was much less consensus not just on the messages
embedded in the advert but also on the issue of climate change and its relationship to oil consumption.
Student A again reinforced the general feeling that “you can sympathise with the company, they seem
interested in getting people's opinions” yet Student B and Student C were more dubious regarding the
second advert. Student B in reply to Student A's comments “The advert might have a negative impact
because people will buy more petrol after seeing it perhaps”, “I'm questioning it because I think it plays
down BP's role in climate change. Its not advertising BP in a way that is obvious”. Student C went as far as
mentioning that they felt “the second ad more subtle at making you think about the company”. These
comments show that there was some awareness of the potential for being mislead by the advert but more
often than not the advert was praised for being more aware of social issues. Student D observed that “the
company has progressed a lot since the first advert, they look like they are more aware of the environment
where as in the first advert they weren't aware at all”.

Regardless of the doubt over the credibility of the second advert the overwhelming majority of the
focus group agreed after viewing that there had been a positive change in BP and that physical changes in
the companies operation were matched by the claims featured in the new advert. If BP was still not credible
then it was at least making better progress towards this goal than before. Student A and C both observed
that BP's product was not actually being advertised in the 'beyond petroleum' advert and that they felt it
was advertising more of a service that a product. The significance of this finding in particular shall be
discussed in relation to previous research with a focus on the dominant social paradigm argument.

5. Comparative findings & relationship to current understanding

5.1 Introduction

The results of this study shall now be discussed in relation to the current understanding of green
advertising and audience perception. The project aims and hypothesis that were postulated shall also be

46
Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51
considered in light of the findings. Limitations and paths for further studies in this subject area feature at
the end of the section.

5.2 Discussion of findings

From the results obtained in the content analysis it has been possible to better understand the approach
that BP used for its new advertisements, and this can be placed within the wider body of research that has
accumulated. Considering the well baby/ sick baby analogy it is possible to account for the positive
audience reaction. It has been established when tackling an environmental issue that the public consider to
be unimportant, the impact of using the sick baby appeal may offer advantages. Alternatively, when
concern for an issue is high or it has received considerable media coverage such as climate change has, then
the well baby approach it more appropriate. (Obermiller 1995) The audience response to the advert also
shows that BP used the well baby appeal to empower their audience. The fact that the democratic
perception of BP has associated the appeal of consumer empowerment with the purchase of its product.
This association is tied together in the construction of the corporate visual identity. Instead of attempting
to divert attention away from global warming as might be expected BP instead chose to make climate
change the main theme of its new campaign. By confronting the issue in such a positive and apparently
honest fashion BP had in fact successfully avoided criticism and diverted the audiences attention towards
positive change. When an image or attitude is positively portrayed then it is probable that positive
behaviour toward that image or attitude will be greater (van Riel, 1995).

These findings have shown that an audience can respond positively to green advertising despite
evidence that suggests the public, particularly green consumers are likely to have anti-corporate views. The
hypothesis to the research conducted now needs to be revised:

H0 – A change in BP's advertising strategy to promoting green credentials will be reflected in a


change of the audience's response to that company.
This was proved to be true, the advert containing green credentials not only effected the audience's
response to the company but also stimulated them to respond to wider social issues connected to the
advertising claims.

H1 – This change in advertising technique will result in a more negative audience perception of BP
as a company.

This was deemed to be a false conception. The focus group and the results of the star diagrams was
evidence to show that overall the response to the new advert was positive. The majority of the group felt
that BP had made positive progress towards its social impacts. Even though the response was relatively
positive some members of the focus group did state doubts over whether the advert accurately portrayed
reality, however even the individuals who had this opinion still had a more positive outlook on the
company than at the beginning of the experiment.

5.3 Corporate Visual Identity: BP's logo

One area of the study which requires particular attention is the modification of BP's corporate logo.
Company logos are fundamental agents in how public perceptions are formed and logos have a direct
relationship to the consumer when they purchase products. BP's logo received much attention during the
feedback session of the focus groups. BP's logo is a material manifestation of the tendency within
contemporary green advertising to focus on corporate image. The corporate image was crucial as BP opted
to re-brand itself as an energy service provider rather than a more traditional oil company. This observation
which was made by two of the members in the focus groups links back to the definition of green
advertising with a 'g' and a 'G'. The findings in this research paper support Dobson's (1996) two
dimensional definition of green advertising. The evidence collected in this study suggests that BP's 'beyond
petroleum' campaign represents the progression of green advertising towards the 'G'. The evidence for this
can be drawn from the focus group discussion . The response to the second advert demonstrates that the
'beyond petroleum' campaign addressed the wider issues of sustainability which was reflected in the agenda

47
Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51

the focus group considered was relevant i.e. The discussion centred around global warming and the
implications of this in relation to oil companies. Whether or not this is evidence to show that BP has
transcended the DSP is not definitive but there is certainly a suggestion that this is what BP is beginning to
do.
“The environmentalism position can be transcended somewhat by adding a conservation perspective. If the
reasoning in the ad is based on preserving resources so that we can maintain consumption standards (and
profitability) for a longer time period, then the ad represents conservationism. Recognition that future
generations have some rights to the environment shifts this advertisement down on reformism and to the right
on anthropocentrism, but it is still tied to "nature as resource" and management efficiency and, therefore, still
within the dominant social paradigm.” Kilbourne (1995).

Killbourne's point would tend to suggest that BP still has not fully escaped from the DSP however BP has
been the first oil company to integrate sustainability into not only its advertising campaign but also its
entire corporation brand image. This will without doubt distinguish it from other oil companies and put
them under increasing pressure to acknowledge these issues in a more constructive way.

5.4 Review of the project aims

To what extent has BP modified its corporate image to fit green credentials?
What techniques does BP use to position it's new corporate image through it's green advertising
campaign?

The findings to this particular aim have been largely technical. It has been established that visual
imagery plays an important role in shaping public perceptions.

From the perspective of audience perception theory does the change in corporate advertising result
in a positive or negative view of the company?
The new campaign has has a positive effect on the audience perception of the company. The significant
aspect of this finding was whether or not this positive perception was formed superficially or if it is
evidence of a mutual relationship between corporation and audience which integrate socially responsible
behaviour. In other words the advert either symbolises a transition out of the DSP or it is entirely 'green
washing'. It is likely that it represents both to an extent but the fact that it shows the potential for green
advertising is a significant finding.

Corporations do not change their management practices spontaneously, Hitchcock and Blair (2001)
suggest that shifts occur either as a result of external pressures or the existence of a potential opportunity.
Opportunities and pressures present themselves in many forms and it seems plausible that clear boundaries
between the two do not exist, introducing the possibility of a cross over. The ‘beyond petroleum’
campaign is evidence to suggest that BP has opted for an ecologically orientated corporate strategy because
it feels there are imminent external pressure to do so, however what might originally be perceived as a
pressure could later on present new opportunities. Hitchcock and Blair's ideas do not fully acknowledge the
real need for corporations to lift consumption out of the dominant social paradigm in a direction that
promotes sustainable consumption.

It is possible to identify two distinct trends associated with CSR, one regarding it as a tactical
business strategy aimed at strengthening competitiveness and providing new products to meet growth in
the green consumer market identified in a study by D'Souza & Taghian (2005). The second is encapsulated
in the phrase 'Caring Capitalism' coined by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream (Zinkman & Carlson
1995) or can be described by advertising that extends beyond the Dominant Social Paradigm. Due to the
large amount of power and wealth attained by corporations in capitalist societies there has been a
recognised moral requirement for them to voluntarily adopt roles to promote societal and environmental
welfare. This interpretation of CSR personified by companies such as The Body Shop and Ben & Jerry's
illustrates instances where the implementation of CSR into a corporate image has managed to overcome
the apparent public cynicism and become economically successful. Making reference to figures 2.1, 2.2 and

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Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51

2.3 shows that there is evidence to show that more recently there is an acceptance that social responsibility
should be required of businesses. These types of business strategies are possible examples of corporations
fulfilling the public demand and is some indication as to why implementing socially responsible practices
has become the focus point for many corporate advertising strategies including BP's.

5.5 Limitations

This study has several distinct limitations that should be mentioned. Firstly the content analysis of
the advertisements used a very small sample. Although the analysis was useful in identifying certain aspects
of the adverts narrative a more extensive content analysis would have allowed the adverts to be compared
with, for example other oil company adverts. This would allow certain mechanisms to be identified which
promoted audience perceptions of the links between environmental issues and corporate development.

The focus group were selected from a convenience sample of A-level students which meant that
demographic variables were not taken into consideration. A random sampling technique would have been
more time consuming but it would have accounted for variables, in particular age variables and socio-
economic variables which may have had an impact on the results. Nevertheless, the focus group that was
used still provided some useful feedback on how green advertising can alter public perception.

5.6 Further Study Possibilities

This research paper has represented a small scale investigation into the evolution of green marketing
a subject that has received little attention from environmental studies, so there is a large potential for
further studies. This research project chose to adopt a holistic approach to the subject by incorporating
content analysis with audience perception theory to see if any relationship would become apparent. Wider
concepts such as Killbourne's (1998) dominant social paradigm have begun to develop green advertising as
a holistic phenomenon and the progression towards more sustainable consumption. The findings of this
study suggest that the positive response to BP's advertisements shows that improved awareness of
environmental issues can be linked to sustainable consumption. The idea that this can be facilitated through
corporate advertising is a concept that could explored further using a larger sample of contemporary green
advertising. It would be suggested that studies into the relationship between audience perceptions and
socio-demographics be avoided since these studies have not yielded definitive results.

6. Conclusion

This study has shown that a major oil company's advertising campaign has received a positive public
response from the focus group. Beyond the issues of 'green washing' this finding shows that different
relationships between business and consumers are possible to develop despite a long history of
corporations being labelled as 'bad guys'. The future direction of green advertising is dependent on macro
level investigations which accept green advertising as a vehicle for developing environmental values rather
than using it to develop more pervasive products. This future is in jeopardy if green advertising continues
to be considered in purely cynical terms.

“It is well documented that the mass media plays an important role in determining which issues
receive high or low attention by the general public. However, not only does the media's assessment of what
is newsworthy mean that green businesses will eventually lose the current of a rising issue attention cycle,
but also its mere success means that stories framing green businesses in a negative light become
newsworthy while positive stories lose their newsworthiness. Therefore, and despite a large and loyal
customer base, many green companies now find themselves in a much more hostile environment than a
decade ago” (Thogerson, 2006).

Whether or not the negative media attention that BP has received since it's 'beyond petroleum'
campaign has disheartened consumers still remains to be seen. It might be the case that negative media

49
Cox MJ (2008) Sustainable Communication: A Study of Green Advertising and Audience Reception within the
growing arena of Corporate Social Responsibility. Case Study: British Petroleum Earth & E-nvironment 3: 32-51

coverage of BP's strategies stifles its attempts to move beyond the traditional image of an oil company.
This highlights the urgent need for a better understanding of role business plays in developing sustainable
consumption and new modes of business consumer relationships. Better trust in corporate behaviour is
essential in aiding necessary changes in consumption patterns because if corporations cannot be entrusted
with social responsibility then it is unlikely that there will be an easier way to make these changes.

Acknowledgements

Much gratitude goes to Prof. Andy Gouldson for accepting to be my supervisor, the advice received during
the early period of topic formulation was much appreciated; to Mike Gunn for allowing me to collect data
in his class room with his students; Also to Damian Howells for always being available.

Copyright Statement

The figures 2.1, 2.2 and 2.2, taken from the IPSOS MORI research database are reproduced and presented
with full permission directly from the author, Jenny Dawkins, Head of Corporate Responsibility Research.
© MORI. All rights reserved.

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