CHARTING public perception towards oil companies over the last five years has revealed some fascinating patterns. Both charts shown here on the right depict the overall Index score (a composite of six key image attributes) from YouGov’s BrandIndex, the first going back to 2007 and the second with greater focus on 2012.
The five-year view shows that until the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, BP and Shell had tracked each other almost precisely.
Secondly, it shows that BP has recovered some but by no means all of the perception lost following the oil spill and subsequent clean-up efforts.
And over the last three years, Total has slowly but surely closed the gap on rival oil major Esso (from 10 points behind in March 2009 to effectively level now).
Finally, price rises at the petrol pumps correlate to image falls for all the oil companies, but Shell and BP tend to be hit the hardest. It is this last point in particular that I want to look at as we focus in on 2012. With petrol prices last week climbing over 140p for a litre of unleaded fuel for the first time ever (according to Experian Catalist) and the cost of diesel lingering around record highs, sentiment towards the oil companies has unsurprisingly started to fall again.
Since early January Shell has fallen from +9 to +4, Esso down from +1 to -4, Total from -1 to -4 and BP from +2 to -4.
We should watch these numbers closely over the next few weeks and months. With a fuel duty rise due this summer and the possibility of strikes by fuel tanker drivers, it will be interesting to measure the impact on the oil companies and whether BP and Shell can ensure that any blame attached is shared around equally, rather than disproportionately focused on them.
Stephan Shakespeare is the chief executive of YouGov