Slick: Big Oil tries image makeover

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Big Oil isn't bad, it's just misunderstood-or so it's going to try to persuade a public that feels it's being price-gouged.

As the major oil players gush third-quarter profits in the billions, consumers pay record prices at the pumps and two U.S. Senate committees summon CEOs of the top oil and gas conglomerates for a joint hearing Nov. 9, Big Oil's trade group is set to launch its largest ever national TV advertising campaign.

The American Petroleum Institute's push aims to explain to policy makers the complexities of the oil and natural gas industry and "help people understand conservation is the quickest way to help inventory and lower prices," said Red Cavaney, president of API. "A number of people in Congress are railing against the industry's windfall profits, but we made only 7.5ยข on a dollar of sales," he said.

Turning down the heat

The group's Web site at further details how many other corporations, including Citigroup, Microsoft and Coca-Cola Co. all posted larger earnings per dollar of sales in their latest reporting period.

Edelman's Blue Worldwide, Washington, created the multimedia executions for the group. The media buy includes national and regional newspapers and national radio, Mr. Cavaney said. The 15-second national TV spots break this week and will discuss turning down home thermostats and not gunning a vehicle's accelerator for better mileage. One of the trade group's newspaper ads carries the headline "Taking a fresh look at America's energy future" and discusses America's vast oil and natural gas resources.

But it doesn't seem likely the message will be well-received by consumers. A majority of Americans, 87%, said oil companies are gouging them on gasoline prices, according to a survey in mid-September by Opinion Research Corp. for the nonprofit Civil Society Institute.

And the oil companies' call for conservation is more about them than consumers, because it's the companies that have supply issues, said Andy Fletcher, president-CEO of ad agency Fletcher-Martin, Atlanta. "I don't know if an oil company can be liked or what it can say or do to be liked," he said.

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