Chevron tracks long-running corporate advertising program

In its quest to be seen as an environmentally friendly oil company, Chevron has had a print and TV campaign, called “People Do.” Communicus, a Santa Monica, Calif., research firm conducts wide-ranging telephone interviews that mask the study’s sponsor and its advertising focus. Respondents give ratings, impressions, and purchase information for a number of companies and their advertising. Re-interviews are done a year later to test ad effectiveness.

Author: Quirk’s Editor Joseph Rydholm

Campaigning for the outdoors

For the past 15 years, Chevron Corporation has been doing the impossible: proving to consumers that the phrases “major oil company” and “environmentally sensitive” belong in the same sentence.

Through its long-running print and TV campaign, called “People Do,” the firm has highlighted its efforts to preserve and protect the environment near its facilities around the world. The ads appear in markets in which Chevron is a gasoline marketer or has production or exploration facilities, chiefly California, Texas and parts of Florida.

Rather than trumpet a broad “we care about the environment” message, the ads take a case history approach, relating specific stories of the firm’s environmental activities.

The print ads are subtle. For example, the copy for the ad “The Wetlands That Almost Disappeared” reads:

“In southern Louisiana, a vital wildlife breeding ground was endangered. Freshwater wetlands were vanishing. Leveeing along the Mississippi River had reduced the influx of fresh water and silt. But then, people working nearby partnered with the Fish and Wildlife Service to carve channels into the levees. Hundreds of acres in the Delta National Wildlife Refuge were restored. And so was nature’s glorious nursery.”

Only a Chevron logo following the text indicates who the “people” referred to in the copy are.

The firm had a sense that the case history approach was the way to go, and the research it has conducted during the campaign’s life span, with the help of Communicus, a Santa Monica, Calif., research firm, has shown that instinct was right. “We know from the research that specific stories about what we do are more effective than anything about the general philosophy of the company,” says Lewis Winters, manager of opinion research, Chevron Corporation, San Francisco.

The research has shown that deviating from that approach, even with similar, environment-related messages, isn’t as effective. “There were some attempts to move out of that mode and perhaps involve fewer examples of wildlife and focus more on things like our tank integrity program, which entails putting double-hulled tanks under the gas stations,” Winters says. “Those tended to not be as effective in the Communicus procedure in conveying our environmental concern, even though they are obviously important programs.

“It’s interesting that things we spent an awful lot of money to do – such as making our refineries more environmentally friendly – if you try to advertise them, consumers don’t give you as much credit as some less expensive thing you might do to convey your concern.”

Wide-ranging interview

Under the Communicus approach, respondents are first contacted by telephone for a wide-ranging interview that is structured to mask the study’s sponsor and its advertising focus. Respondents provide attribute ratings, overall impressions, and purchase information for a number of companies and their advertising.

The same people are recontacted a year later to participate in a similar interview, this time computer-aided, during which they are briefly shown ads which have been edited to eliminate sponsor identification. “Using the reinterview approach allows us to have a more sensitive measure of the effectiveness of the ads in terms of attitude change,” Winters says.

“With that data,” says Robert Judson, president, of Communicus Inc., “you have a sample of people you have tracked over time, vis à vis your objective. You know where they started and where they ended up and you know if they saw any ad for your campaign in any medium. So with those data you can look at people who had and had not seen the ads and see how they changed when they saw the campaign.”

In testing print ads or another still medium, Communicus uses a photograph of the ad. “There you let time do the masking,” Judson says. “You show it to the respondent at a quick exposure duration, which you have to calibrate to the individual. You show it to them so fast that if they see it, they won’t learn anything, but slow enough that if they have seen it before, they’ll recognize it.”


Ad reprinted with permision of Chevron Corporation

If the respondent says he or she has seen an ad, they are asked additional questions to make sure they can correctly identify its sponsor, which becomes the proved awareness score for each commercial.

Awareness of one or more commercials or print ads puts a respondent into the campaign-aware group and they can then be compared in terms of variables such as attribute ratings, brand bought last, favorability ratings, etc.

“It’s the difference in the change scores between the aware group and the change score of the unaware group on these dependent variables that dictates whether the campaign has had an effect,” Winters says. “And then within that, we look at which commercials or print ads have had different scores on awareness, sponsor ID, and the effects on the dependent variables and also how the scores compare to Communicus norms. That measure lets us make all kinds of decisions about campaign effectiveness and specific execution effectiveness within the campaign.”

TV, print interaction

In addition to measuring the overall campaign, Chevron also examines how the TV ads and print ads interact. As it turns out, they work just fine together. “The two media are equally persuasive,” says Jack Moore, president of Communicus affiliate Carmelita Inc., who has also worked on the Chevron campaign research. “Chevron couldn’t afford to reach the people they reach with print ads via TV. They need the print to reach some people and TV to reach others.”

The research lets Chevron know which executions perform better than others, so it helps determine the allocation of media dollars, Winters says. “It certainly helps us understand how this message positions us in the minds of people. Independent of Communicus, when we do tracking studies, we find out that in markets where we have the People Do campaign, we are positioned in people’s minds as the number one oil firm with regard to the environment. Where we don’t do the advertising, we aren’t thought of in that way.”


Moore says the Chevron campaign has been very successful, not just at enhancing the impressions of people who were already favorably disposed toward Chevron but also at reaching those who had expressed an unfavorable impression. “A lot of consumers express a high degree of interest in the environment, so firms advertising their environmental awareness have an audience that is prepared to think well of companies who give a credible message about their participation in preserving the environment,” he says.

“The biggest problem is credibility. Most people are not prepared to believe statements from oil companies. If the oil company comes out and says ‘We love the environment,’ there is a tendency to reject it. But if they come out and say, ‘Here is something very specific we did,’ the interest in the case itself brings people into it. And if it is done in a credible fashion, it can be very effective, as this campaign has shown.”

Credibility is supremely important, especially with this kind of advertising, Moore says, because there is a tendency for the company to build expectations that it can’t meet, which may do more damage than having run no campaign at all. He cites an example of an airline that advertised its wonderful in-flight cabin service just as its flight attendants were staging a work slowdown. “The people who saw the ads got twice as mad as they otherwise might have since they experienced the exact opposite of wonderful cabin service.”

Also important, Judson says, is the fact that Chevron has had the discipline to stay with the program for a number of years. “When people see that ad format, they are well able to associate it with Chevron, whereas if you don’t have the discipline and you change approaches, it’s hard to build up that kind of advertising equity. They keep it fresh with new executions but they’ve been able to maintain a campaign architecture.”

Employee pride

The advertising has also had an impact on another audience – those who put the “people” in the People Do slogan – by making Chevron’s environmental concern a source of pride for its employees, Winters says. “Because we are out front with that [environmental] message, we have established even more vigilance in terms of doing what we say we are doing in our advertising. I think the employees feel a sense of pride about that. A lot of the stories for the ads come from the employees and things they do to be consistent with this positioning.”