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

December 17, 2019

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

Brown University

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to