BP’s battered brand draws US consumer opposition

* Boycotts planned but unlikely to hurt BP

* Facebook, Twitter used to voice public displeasure

* Most Americans feel BP has done a poor or only fair job

By Deborah Zabarenko and Dan Whitcomb

WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES, June 4 (BestGrowthStock) – U.S. consumers
are venting frustration over the BP oil spill, demonstrating at
gas stations and corporate offices, drumming up support on
Facebook and waging a mock public relations campaign on
Twitter.

But their opposition to BP’s handling of the crisis has yet
to achieve critical mass, and any attempt to dissuade customers
from fueling their cars with BP (BP.L: ) is likely to hurt the
small business owners who run the stations with little or no
effect on the British oil giant’s revenues.

Most Americans — seven out of 10 — say BP has done a poor
or only fair job in handling the April 20 well blowout and
spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Pew Research
Center, which tracks public opinion. The Obama administration
got slightly better marks, with 57 percent rating the
government’s response poor or only fair.

In light of this public displeasure, BP may have trouble
charging a premium price at the pump for its products, said Tom
Kloza, chief oil analyst at the independent New Jersey-based
Oil Price Information Service.

“We are starting to see some impact so far, and a percent
of decline or two can have a dramatic impact,” Kloza said by
phone. “Unfortunately, it has an impact on what you might say
are the victims: the marketers and the dealers that made
commitments to fly the BP flag.”

BP’s petroleum products can be sold at other outlets under
other brand names, making a consumer boycott tough to achieve.
In any case, he said, price is the biggest factor determining
where customers buy automotive fuel.

MOTHER TERESA BRAND

Customers would probably patronize gas stations with lower
prices than pay more for gas from a “Mother Teresa” brand.

Several U.S. groups, including the consumer watchdog Public
Citizen and Vermont-based Democracy for America, have called
for a BP boycott, but historically, energy boycotts have had
minimal impact on the parent companies’ revenues. Efforts to
boycott Exxon after the 1989 Valdez spill off Alaska and a
boycott of Citgo, which is owned by Venezuelan interests linked
to President Hugo Chavez, had little effect, Kloza said.

Seize BP, a campaign aimed at getting the U.S. government
to seize BP’s assets and redistribute them to those damaged by
the spill, plans a week of demonstrations in all 50 states at
gas stations and BP offices.

“As this continues and BP continues to spend money on a
clean-up effort which is failing, we think they will declare
bankruptcy and … then nobody will be compensated,” said Ian
Thompson, a Los Angeles organizer for the campaign. “Which is
why we’re calling for a seizure of their assets to be put into
a trust administered by the people affected in the region.”

The movement to seize BP’s assets is gaining ground on
Facebook, where at least five groups with a total of over 8,000
members were pushing this cause as of Thursday.

ANGER AND FRUSTRATION

There is also a spoof Twitter feed, BPGlobalPR, that
purports to be the oil company’s online persona. The author of
the often hilarious tweets identifies himself as Leroy Stick
and said in an online post on Wednesday: “I started BPGlobalPR
because the oil spill had been going on for almost a month and
all BP had to offer were bullshit PR statements.”

The satirical feed has more than 114,000 followers,
compared to the official BP_America feed, which had less than
10,000 on Thursday.

The fake feed has donated $10,000 to the Gulf Restoration
Network from the sale of T-shirts emblazoned with an
oil-smudged BP logo and the words “bp cares.”

A survey of recent tweets involving the term “oil spill”
comes up with mostly news stories, along with comments on
recent developments, including chatter about the involvement of
filmmaker James Cameron in the well-plugging effort.

Karen North, director of the Annenberg Online Communities
program at the University of Southern California, said she saw
small online efforts but little sign of a major movement.

“People are posting their anger and frustration on their
own personal newsfeeds, but in terms of people coming together
as part of a collective effort, if its there I haven’t seen
that much of it, and that might be because people aren’t sure
what the right bandwagon is to join,” North said in an
interview.

Kloza, the oil analyst, said: “If people are serious about
demonstrating or showing their indignant, they can divest
themselves of investments, and maybe think about using a little
bit less fuel, because there’s really no downside in that.”

Stock Market News

(Editing by Paul Simao)

BP’s battered brand draws US consumer opposition