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BP apology ad doesn’t move many

An apologetic ad campaign by BP for the oil spill is going over about as well as the tar balls and rust-colored froth washing ashore in the Florida Panhandle.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An apologetic advertising campaign by BP PLC for the oil spill polluting the Gulf of Mexico is going over about as well as the tar balls and rust-colored froth washing ashore in the Florida Panhandle.

The new radio, TV, online and print ads feature BP CEO Tony Hayward pledging to fix the damage caused by an undersea gusher of crude oil unleashed by an April 20 drilling rig explosion that killed 11 people.

The company will honor financial claims and "do everything we can so this never happens again," he says in the spots.

The ads began appearing last week and have been criticized by President Barack Obama, who said the money should be spent on cleanup efforts and on compensating fishermen and small business owners who have lost their jobs because of the spill.

The ads also don't thrill residents and visitors of the Gulf Coast, where the oil has blackened some beaches and threatens others. And others say the sentiments come too soon and insincerely.

"Their best advertising is if they get this cap (in place) and they get everything cleaned up. All you've got to do is do your job, and that's going to be plenty of good advertising," said Grover Robinson IV, chairman of the Escambia County, Florida, Commission, referring to BP's efforts to place a cap over the gushing pipe and capture the oil.

BP spokesman Robert Wine said in an e-mail Saturday that "not a cent" has been diverted from the oil spill response to pay for the ad campaign. He didn't know its cost.

"All available resources are being deployed, and efforts continue at full strength," he wrote.

BP estimates that it will spend about $84 million through June to compensate for lost wages and profits caused by the spill. The company has promised to pay all legitimate claims, and no claim has yet been rejected, Wine said.

Shortly after the one-minute television and online version of the ad begins, Hayward speaks to the camera, saying "The Gulf spill is a tragedy that never should have happened."

Hayward then narrates over images of boom lying in clear water before uncontaminated marshes and healthy pelicans. Cleanup crews walk with trash bags on white sand beaches as he touts the British oil giant's response efforts: more than 2 million feet (610,000 meters) of boom, 30 planes and more than 1,300 boats deployed, along with thousands of workers at no cost to taxpayers.

The ad's imagery clashes with disturbing news photographs published recently of pelicans coated in oil, gunk dripping from their beaks.

"To those affected and your families, I'm deeply sorry," Hayward says in the ad.

As the ad fades out to show BP's website and volunteer hot line, he says, "We will get this done. We will make this right."

Picking up tar Saturday with her parents at Pensacola Beach, Florida, 13-year-old Annie Landrum of Birmingham, Alabama, called Hayward's apology a joke.

"It's a lame attempt a month and half after the disaster. It's too late," she said.

Public-relations experts said BP's ad blitz seems premature and a little shallow. BP missed an opportunity to shift focus away from criticism of the company and toward BP's strategy for cleaning up the spill, said Gene Grabowski, a senior vice president with Levick Strategic Communications.

"The one element they seem to be missing is laying out a plan for what they're going to do," he said. "Usually in ads like these you apologize; he's doing that in the ad. You talk about your resolve to fix the situation; that's also included. But what's missing is a concrete plan or vision for what they plan to do next."