Posted September 7, 2010 7:57 am by with 1 comment

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AdAge’s Mobiliby site has been doing a little investigative reporting by obtaining a document from Google that apparently shows the Adwords spend level of some of the biggest players in the Adwords ecosystem (HT to @Ed). The numbers are not shocking as a whole but seeing BP in those numbers is. It’s like one of those kids game where you are asked “Which one of these doesn’t belong?” In this case, BP looks a bit like a fish out of water considering the ad spend company they kept in June. Of course, when you triple your average overall ad spend after a major crisis involving the company like BP did around the Deepwater oil spill, you want to find the best bang for all of those bucks, right?

I doubt BP’s epiphany that search was a good play was a coincidence. In fact, it’s pretty obvious that BP decided that Adwords offered a decent chance at them doing some online reputation triage. Why you ask? Well, let’s just say that the $3.5 million plus in spend was a slight increase over their average monthly spend

How much did BP spend on search? In two months, BP went from spending very little on search advertising — about $57,000 a month — to becoming one of Google’s top advertisers, dropping nearly $3.6 million in the month of June alone, according to an internal Google document obtained by Advertising Age. That pushed BP into the upper echelon of search advertisers, in a league with Expedia, which spent at least $5.9 million in June, Amazon, which spent at least $5.8 million, and eBay, which spent at least $4.2 million.

As one might expect Google’s response to this information about their advertisers getting outside of the Googleplex was not by design. It sounds as if the Googler responsible for this leak may need to polish the resume a bit.

“We can’t comment on these figures because we haven’t seen the document in question or determined what these numbers represent,” said Dennis Woodside, VP of Google Americas Operations. “We’re now looking into the possibility that someone improperly disclosed confidential information about our clients, and [we] will take all appropriate action.”

So the Adwords as ORM tool could be a nice play for Google. Considering how many corporate screw-ups there are and just how frantic the attempts can be to cover up any indiscretions, it only makes sense to get the corrective message out where people are looking for information directly: through search.

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.

BP apparently determined that going the “broad match” route would be best so that they would be assured of tuning up anywhere where the words oil, spill etc showed up as well. I wonder how many people looking for cooking oil information were treated to BP’s pleas for forgiveness?

So the message must have gotten through to some. People were clicking on the ads. Since a surprisingly large number of people who are not in the Internet marketing industry still don’t know that some of Google’s results are “pay to play”, I doubt this was a concerted effort to drain BP of cash through clicking on the ads just to ding their corporate coffers.

Whether this play was an effective one will never totally be known. As marketers though it is important to take note that Adwords and ORM are part of an effective ORM strategy to “get the word out”. We are sure that Google would agree.

  • I am sure this is the beginning of a trend. More companies in the future will turn to adwords to protect their reputation after they screw up. Google will just get richer and richer. Good thing I own their stock 🙂