In recent weeks, the biggest brand error didn’t come from JCPenney, in a #tweetingwithmittens redux, or from Jimmy Kimmel, with another dog-in-wolf’s-clothing publicity stunt. It came from energy giant Chevron—the brand that will go into the books as having proffered pizzas as apologies to residents of Bobtown, Pennsylvania for a fatal fracking explosion and 5-day fire that tore through their rural southwestern Pennsylvania community.
After a February 11th well explosion shook Chevron’s Lanco 7H site in Bobtown, it took a week for emergency crews to control the fire that seared across the gas pad, combusting a nearby propane truck in the process. On the 16th, 100 of the residents closest to the well site received consolation letters from Chevron with a coupon for—wait for it—one free pizza and a 2-liter of soda from the local Bobtown Pizza (limited time offer, expires May 1, 2014).
Today, two weeks later, a broken well continues to leech gas and Bobtown mourns the loss of a local site worker and worries about the safety of the air they breathe.
Even before Deepwater Horizon, big energy companies had been on rebrand pushes with nods to their investments in “human energy” (Chevron’s tagline), “people power”, “safety” and “responsibility”. And yet, as BP knows too well—a brand is truly defined in its moments of crisis; when it is called to answer for its mistakes. When its response is 100 $12 gift certificates to a grieving, endangered community, that’s a lot more than a brand error. A resident of Bobtown said it best: it’s a “slap in the face”. Delivered with a sting to those who have a lot to lose—and have already lost—to the corporate machine.