CAMPAIGNS: Crisis Management - Oil industry limits ’Dump the Pump’

Client: Various oil companies

Client: Various oil companies

PR Team: In-house PR departments

Campaign: Negating the impact of the ’Dump the Pump’ protest

Timescale: July - Ongoing

Budget: Undisclosed

Drivers in the UK pay the highest levels of fuel tax of any in Europe at

75 per cent - and in recent months petrol prices have hit record


The haulage industry has for some time lobbied for fuel tax to be

lowered. On 1 August a protest was organised by two private individuals

over the internet. Consumers were urged to ’Dump the Pump’ and not fill

up on petrol for the day - and every Monday - to register their

disapproval of the high tax rate.

The support for the action was reported as being patchy, with more

impact being felt further from London, but this may have partly been due

to a coincidental drop in forecourt prices, first by supermarket groups

days before the protest and then by the major oil companies the

following week.

Assuming, as the oil companies say, the price cuts were coincidental and

simply reflected changes in world markets, the corporate response to the

protest was remarkably cool. Mindful that the action was actually

directed at the Government, the big oil companies adopted a PR policy of

non-engagement, hoping not to draw any extra attention to it. But the

campaign attracted a significant amount of press coverage and, with the

organisers planning to continue the protest each week, oil companies

could yet find themselves more involved, especially giant BP Amoco which

was named as the specific target of the second week’s protest.


The oil companies wanted to minimise the protest’s size; limit its

length, (its organisers want to continue indefinitely); minimise the

amount of press coverage the protest achieves; and to deflect any

negative coverage towards the Government.

Strategy and Plan

The three sectors of the petrol retail market (major oil companies,

independent retailers and supermarket retailers) adopted different PR

strategies. The four major companies - BP Amoco, Esso, Shell and Texaco

- used broadly the same strategy which was to play down the protest.

Most confined themselves to answering press calls on the day of the

protest and some were only prepared to answer questions on how badly

they had been affected by the boycott rather than the subject of


BP stated that the action only amounted to customer demand fluctuating

over the period of a few days in a way that was easily manageable.

Meanwhile, the Petrol Retailers’ Association, which represents the

interests of the country’s 3,700 independent retailers, took a different

tack. The PRA decided the dispute gave it an opportunity to put

information out about the position of its members in relation to the oil

companies and the Government.

It issued a proactive press release before the first ’Dump the Pump’,

making the point that the dispute was about Treasury policy rather than

its members, and also that its members were at the bottom of the food

chain. They make just 0.75p on a litre of fuel.

The supermarket groups were in a more fortunate position as the Friday’s

price cut meant there was some ’good’ news to tell on the Monday.

J Sainsbury plc- the first national retailer to cut prices - put out a

press release on Friday and found enquiries on the subject ’rolled into’

discussions on the dispute on Monday.

Measurement and Evaluation

There was enormous press and broadcast coverage of ’Dump the Pump’,

especially of the first event. It’s too early to say how the petrol

companies will come out of the campaign in the medium term, but the PRA

believes it ’fairly well achieved’ its objective of distancing the

petrol retailers from the high prices. The PRA also believes the

public’s patchy response to the campaign was partly a result of its

educational proactive strike on the Friday.


Even if the petrol companies are badly hit by the boycott, they are

unlikely to say by how much. BP Amoco especially must try to distance

itself from the action as far as possible, and continue to make sure the

emphasis is on the Treasury.

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