Climate change legislation, media coverage drives oil companies’ ad spending, study finds

Brown University

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Major oil corporations tend to spend the most money on advertising and promotional campaigns at moments when they face negative media coverage and/or the threat of increased federal regulation, a new study finds.

Robert Brulle, a Brown University visiting professor based at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, led an analysis concluding that investments in advertising and promotion by major oil companies directly correspond to Congressional action and media coverage on climate change.

The findings, published on Saturday, Dec. 14 in Climatic Change, suggest that oil company executives target their promotional efforts in ways designed to influence policymakers and to shape the public climate-change debate.

“All corporations rely on advertising to burnish their brands and minimize damage to their reputation,” Brulle said. “But this analysis, combined with previous research, demonstrates that ad campaigns in the oil and gas sector are specifically intended to influence how the public and lawmakers think about the climate crisis and whether they act to address it. It shows that the rise and fall of spending levels is directly related to whether or not climate legislation is being considered.”

Working with Melissa Aronczyk of Rutgers University and Jason Carmichael of McGill University, Brulle analyzed the annual corporate promotion advertising space purchases of ExxonMobil, BP-Amoco, Chevron-Texaco, Royal Dutch Shell and ConocoPhillips between 1986 and 2015. The researchers focused on four major factors that prior scholarship suggests might influence these companies’ promotional expenditures: Congressional attention to climate change, corporate reputation, media attention on climate change, and public concern about climate change.

To gauge the extent to which each factor affects advertising spending, the researchers collected data on hearings, bills, treaties and other climate change-related legislation; consulted Fortune’s annual Corporate Reputation Index; measured levels of climate change-related media coverage; and tracked the timing of major oil spills and the release of major reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Brulle said the team found that two of the four factors motivated the majority of oil companies’ advertising spending: climate change-related media coverage and Congressional action.

“It seems their objective in advertising is to deflect criticism and avoid legislative action that attempts to address climate change,” Brulle said. “That suggests that their primary motivation is to avoid the potential of additional regulatory scrutiny.”

The findings also suggest, Brulle said, that oil executives are less concerned with public mood on climate change and with the release of major climate change reports, which invariably portray their companies in a negative light. Brulle said the latter finding was consistent with his own previous research, which indicates that climate change reports do little to sway public opinion, and are thus unlikely to spur media coverage and Congressional action.

The analysis comes as promotional spending by major oil companies reaches an all-time high. Between 2008 and 2016, the five largest oil companies spent an average of $217 million annually on advertising. By contrast, average annual ad expenditures were $102 million between 1997 and 2004 and $35 million between 1986 and 1996.

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The researchers’ work was supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (No. 1558264).

From EurekAlert!

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43 thoughts on “Climate change legislation, media coverage drives oil companies’ ad spending, study finds

  1. Is it true that Brown University is pushing for a new event in the next Olympics – Conclusion Jumping?

    “It seems their objective in advertising is to deflect criticism and avoid legislative action that attempts to address climate change…..”

    Do they really think a broad nationwide advertising campaign is going to influence Congressional politicians more than the same amount spent on K Street lobbyists and campaign contributions?

    Isn’t it more logical to assume that when regulatory and activist activity heats up, they want to counter adverse public opinion with touchy-feely commercials?

    • It costs a bundle to buy the paper, so I’m just guessing here.

      When is there not media coverage of climate change? When is there not pending climate change legislation somewhere?

      I sure wouldn’t bet the farm based on what the abstract says. They could have fooled around with the selection criteria until they got some kind of slightly positive correlation.

      Maybe some proper statistician will read the paper and prove me wrong. Maybe, but I’d bet a coffee that I’m not.

    • George said, “Is it true that Brown University is pushing for a new event in the next Olympics – Conclusion Jumping?”

      Thanks. That made me laugh.

      Regards,
      Bob

  2. But this analysis, combined with previous research, demonstrates that ad campaigns in the oil and gas sector are specifically intended to influence how the public and lawmakers think So they examined all other sectors of commercial sales, and found this unique to the oil and gas sector.

    • I’m pretty sure that trying to convince people is hacking of minds.

      And obstruction of different opinions.

      We are a Republic not a Monarchy no one is above the law Putin would be proud of you think of the children impeach Big Oil.

    • Uh, I can guarantee you every sector considers public and legislative opinion when designing ad campaigns.

      Well, except maybe Gillette.

  3. Let’s see the followup research on the massive media push across every state media outlet in promoting the Paris Climate Agreement in the months before the big event. In my area it looked like a lot of ad spending as news stories went out from a vast array of small and medium market groups to lay the disinformation foundation. It was a lot more than a handful of oil companies could ever pull off in their efforts.

  4. What?! Companies protecting their interests from assault by systematic prevaricators. There’s no excuse for such risk management efforts? Nefarious, I tell you. We must convince them to lay down their arms and just accede to our demands (which happen to include their extinction, by the way).

    • Can’t do that. That’s obstruction of (future) law. Big Oil is not above the law!

      And it’s obstruction of activism.

      Also, I have children (age … and …) and I have told that Big Oil is a urgent threat something something.

      No one is above the law!

  5. Exxon-Mobil has run quite a few ads about using algae to generate fuel. Although there are some small projects to bubble CO2-rich flue gas from power plants through transparent tubes containing water and algae, the amount of fuel produced from such ideas is a tiny fraction of a percent of the fuel obtained from petroleum drilling and fracking.

    The ads are a way of paying lip service to the global warming scaremongers, without any serious change in their bread-and-butter industry.

  6. Climate change attention is most dominent when an election is coming, so I guess that means the evil climate change people just want to be elected. Interesting.

  7. Its been status quo, 1970-present, politicians creat crisis to motivate voters without regard.

    The tragic aspects, they don’t care about constituents, the potential good, nor our Nation States well being.

    Absolute Power in Politics corrupts Absolutely.

    It’s time to retire the UNFCCC for the good of all and vote Climate Clowns out of office.

  8. The Institute at Brown for Environment and Society’s idiocy is skyrocketing twice as fast as other Institutes !

  9. Next, they’ll do a study of University Press Releases when government funding for “Higher Education” is being debated.

  10. It’s time for Americans to relearn that appeasement never works, except to embolden those determined to destroy you anyway.

  11. The fact that the researchers applied for such a grant is not surprising ( that is the nature of the beast ), however the person who approved the grant should be held accountable for wasting the foundations’ money on a foregone conclusion that blind Freddy and his dog could have seen and articulated on the back of a napkin during a liquid lunch at the local tavern.

  12. You need an NSF Grant to discover that people/companies defend themselves when attacked? All of the Watts followers could have told them that for free. Wow!

  13. Advertising by fossil fuel companies does not even amount to a fly dumping on the mountains of cash the green alarmist crowd throws into influencing public opinion. What fossil fuel needs is taking a stance in a courageous debate that will last for a long time. As long as fossil fuel company CEO’s sing the song of the green-industrial-complex, anything they spend on advertising is good for naught. This is not going to be a pleasant Sunday afternoon walk in the park. That’s what they are used to and that’s why the other side has them on the chicken run. Principled opposition is needed, not some spineless greenwashers.

  14. The US goobermint, using the blame-stream media that they essentially own, spends orders-of-magnitude more money on “ads” that favor their marxist leanings & interests. All the companies in the world don’t have as much money as the US goobermint (looted from the US taxpayer and bought by the rich billionaires & money-sheltering/laundering NGOs (aka “Foundations”). And the goobermint can also print up via the US Treasury any more that it might need.

    Going after “Big Oil” (oowww, so scary!) is a “look at the squirrel” technique, while a stampeding herd of elephants is right behind you.

  15. I love how the article sneaks in the concept of “climate crisis” as an accepted fact of nature. It automatically discredits anyone who expresses the least skepticism of any aspect of the CAGW dogma. Yet I would challenge anyone (Stokes, Mosher, griff) to point to a single, verified case of harm that has been caused by a single, verified change in the climate. Then I would challenge them to demonstrate that the change they allege was absolutely the result of human activity of any kind.

  16. Climate change legislation, media coverage drives oil companies’ ad spending, study finds

    Charles Rotter / 2 weeks ago December 18, 2019
    Brown University

    PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Major oil corporations tend to spend the most money on advertising and promotional campaigns at moments when they face negative media coverage and/or the threat of increased federal regulation, a new study finds.
    ____________________________________

    Leaves some questions:

    – how much money spent “Major oil corporations on advertising and promotional campaigns at moments when they face negative media coverage” brought by

    “Charles Rotter / Brown University at PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University]” –

    to prevent further racketeering by

    “Charles Rotter / Brown University at PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University]”

    ____________________________________

    – what other industries are

    “Charles Rotter / Brown University at PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University]”

    racketeering for advertising and promotional campaigns at moments when they face negative media coverage” brought by

    “Charles Rotter / Brown University at PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University]”

    ____________________________________

    Is WUWT the only racketeering platform for

    “Charles Rotter / Brown University at PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University]” and ilk.

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