After a corporation has visited huge damage on humans and other living things, it usually lays low. You certainly have not seen a lot of VW ads, for example, since its “Dieselgate.” When hundreds were sickened by eating at Chipotle, some hospitalized, you did not hear too many Chipotle ads.
But not so with the British energy giant BP.
For some reason BP thinks there’s no hard feelings from its 2010 Gulf oil spill, the largest oil spill in U.S. history. In addition to killing 11 workers, the explosion and spill killed at least 6,381 birds including 577 brown pelicans. Why “at least”? Because, to avoid causing more deaths, the decision was made to not recover dead birds from the nesting islands until months after the spill.
And it gets worse. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found clear links between the oil spill and mass dolphin deaths in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Some of the dolphins exhibited adrenal and lung lesions. Shrimp were reported by fishermen to be mutated from the spill and/or dispersal chemicals and huge oil plumes remain on the ocean floor according to other reports.
The continued death and destruction did not stop BP from launching a glib ad campaign whose tag line was you “have more important things to worry about” than the quality of your gas. The people with greater issues included “Bobbie’s buddies” driving 250 miles for his bachelor party with “plenty of ibuprofen” and “inflatable goats” and a parent teaching a 15-year-old to “drive stick” in “your brand new sports car”—actually laughing at fender benders.
Then there was the new jingle rolled out by U.S. pork producers the week before the Fourth of July. Sung to the tune of “America the Beautiful,” the jingle extols different cuts of pork that are so tasty “you’re gonna need a bib.” People were not just offended that a beloved U.S. anthem was being satirized. A week earlier, the activist group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) exposed shocking conditions at one of California’s largest pig farms and a subsidiary of meat giant Hormel—conditions that threaten both animals and food consumers. The month long investigation revealed wide use of dangerous antibiotics and a piglet so weak it could not avoid being eaten alive.
Finally there is Butterball’s new giggly ad campaign in which a man keeps making “ham” puns and a woman keeps laughing until she finally says the forced word play is . . . a little much. Butterball also launched a giddy new ad for turkey.
At least twice Butterball has been exposed with permitting such animal abuses that more than four employees at its facilities have been convicted. According to ABC News, Butterball not only allowed extreme and disturbing animal cruelty—it had friends in high places. Dr. Sarah Mason, a veterinarian, pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and obstructing a public officer because she called a friend who worked at Butterball to warn them before a raid. Nice. Mason initially told authorities she had not talked to the Butterball employee, but later admitted telling him about an incriminating video given to a county prosecutor.
Thanks to the Internet and 24 hour news cycle, many corporations rely on the public’s short memory to get past a scandal. Who, for example, remembers that Merck’s drug Vioxx caused at least 50,000 heart attacks before being withdrawn? But the effects of the BP oil spill and reported abuses at Hormel and Butterball continue to this day—and are no laughing matter.
Martha Rosenberg is a freelance journalist and the author of the highly acclaimed “Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health,” published by Prometheus Books. Check her Facebook page.