Corporate promotion and climate change: an analysis of key variables affecting advertising spending by major oil corporations, 1986–2015

  • Robert J. BrulleEmail author
  • Melissa Aronczyk
  • Jason Carmichael


Advertising by fossil fuel companies is a ubiquitous element of modern political life. Promotional campaigns in the service of a corporation’s position toward environmental issues such as climate change are prevalent in the oil and gas sectors, where corporate image is seen as a valuable asset in managing risk, controlling negative media attention, and overcoming resistance by antagonistic civil society groups. This article assesses advertising expenditures by five major oil and gasoline companies for the time period 1986 to 2015. We examine four major factors that may influence spending on advertising by the oil and gas sectors: (1) the overall reputation of the oil and gas sector; (2) congressional attention to climate change; (3) media attention to climate change; and (4) a series of control variables including major oil spills, the publication of major climate change reports, overall public concern about climate change, GDP, and oil prices. We find that the factors that most influence corporate promotional spending are media coverage and congressional attention to the issue of climate change.


Major oil corporations Climate change Advertising 


Supplementary material

10584_2019_2582_MOESM1_ESM.docx (373 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 373 kb)


  1. Anderegg W, Goldsmith GR (2014) Public interest in climate change over the past decade and the effects of the “Climategate” media event. Environ Res Lett 9:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aronczyk M (2018) Public relations, issue management, and the transformation of American environmentalism, 1948–1992. Enterprise & Society, 1–28Google Scholar
  3. Austin PC, Steyerberg EW (2015) The number of subjects per variable required in linear regression analyses. J Clin Epidemiol 68:627–636CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barnett ML, Hoffman AJ (2008) Beyond corporate reputation: managing reputational interdependence. Corp Reput Rev 11:1–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beder S (2002) Global spin: the corporate assault on environmentalism. Chelsea Green PublishingGoogle Scholar
  6. Bennett WL, Manheim J (2001) The big spin: strategic communication and the transformation of pluralist democracy. In: Bennett WL, Entman R (eds) Mediated politics: communication in the future of democracy. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 279–298Google Scholar
  7. Bortree DS (2009) The impact of green initiatives on environmental legitimacy and admiration for the organization. Public Relat Rev 35:133–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brown C, Waltzer H (2005) Every thursday: advertorials by Mobil Oil on the op-ed page of The New York Times. Public Relat Rev 31:197–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brulle RJ, Carmichael J, Jenkins JC (2012) Shifting public opinion on climate change: an empirical assessment of factors influencing concern over climate change in the US, 2002–2010. Clim Chang 114(2):169–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Calhoun C (ed) (1993) Habermas and the public sphere. The MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  11. Carey A (1995) Taking the risk out of democracy: corporate propaganda versus freedom and liberty. University of Illinois Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  12. Carmichael JT, Brulle RJ (2017) Elite cues, media coverage, and public concern: an integrated path analysis of public opinion on climate change, 2001-2013. Environmental Politics 26(2):232–252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carmichael JT, Brulle RJ, Huxster JK (2017) The great divide: understanding the role of media and other drivers of the partisan divide in public concern over climate change in the USA, 2001-2014. Clim Chang 141(4):599–612CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cho CH, Patten DM, Roberts RW (2006) Corporate political strategy: an examination of the relation between political expenditures, environmental performance, and environmental disclosure. J Bus Ethics 67:139–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Collison D (2003) Corporate propaganda: its implications for accounting and accountability. Account Audit Account J 16(5):853–886CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Conley II JG (2006) Environmentalism contained: a history of corporate responses to the new environmentalism. PhD Dissertation, Princeton UniversityGoogle Scholar
  17. Cooper C, Nownes A (2004) Money well spent? An experimental investigation of the effects of advertorials on citizen opinion. Am Politics Res 32(5):546–569CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Driessen P (2003) BP – Back to petroleum. Institute of Public Affairs 55(1) 13–14Google Scholar
  19. Dunlap R, McCright A (2015) Challenging climate change: the denial countermovement. In: Dunlap R, Brulle RJ (eds) Climate change and society: sociological perspectives on climate change. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 300–332CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Falk E, Grizard E, McDonald G (2006) Legislative issue advertising in the 108th congress: pluralism or peril?. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 11(4):148–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fombrun C, Shanley M (1990) What’s in a name? Reputation building and corporate strategy. Acad Manag J 33(2):233–258Google Scholar
  22. Frandsen F, Johansen W (2011) Rhetoric, climate change, and corporate identity management. Manag Commun Q 25(3):511–530CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Frynas G (2010) Oil industry’s increasing focus on CSR. Petroleum Economist (Feb)Google Scholar
  24. Gaither BM, Gaither TK (2016) Marketplace advocacy by the U.S. fossil fuel industries: issues of representation and environmental discourse. Mass Commun Soc 19(5):585–603CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gatzert N (2015) The impact of corporate reputation and reputation damaging events on financial performance: empirical evidence from the literature. Eur Manag J 33:485–499CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Greenberg J, Knight G, Westersund E (2011) Spinning climate change; corporate and NGO public relations strategies in Canada and the United States. Int Commun Gaz 73(1–2):65–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Habermas J (1989) The structural transformation of the public sphere: An inquiry into a category of bourgeois society (T. McCarthy, Trans.). The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (Original work published 1962)Google Scholar
  28. Harvey B, Bice B (2014) Social impact assessment, social development programmes and social licence to operate: tensions and contradictions in intent and practice in the extractive sector. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal 32(4):327–335CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hoggan J (2009) Climate cover-up. Greystone BooksGoogle Scholar
  30. Howard P (2006) New media campaigns and the managed citizen. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  31. Johnston J, DiNardo J (1997) Econometric methods. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  32. Karpf D (2016) Analytic activism: digital listening and the new political strategy. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  33. Kerr R (2004) Creating the corporate citizen: Mobil Oil’s editorial-advocacy campaign in the New York Times to advance the right and practice of corporate political speech, 1970-80. Am Journal 21(4):39–62Google Scholar
  34. Kerr R (2005) The rights of corporate speech: Mobil Oil and the legal development of the voice of big business. LFB Scholarly Publishing, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  35. Knight G (2010) Activism, branding, and the promotional public sphere. In: Aronczyk M, Powers D (eds) Blowing up the brand: critical perspectives on promotional culture. New York, Peter Lang, pp 173–193Google Scholar
  36. Kreiss D (2016) Prototype politics: technology-intensive campaigning and the data of democracy. Oxford University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ledbetter J (1997) Made possible by…: the death of public broadcasting in the United States. Verso, LondonGoogle Scholar
  38. Ludlam C (1974) Abatement of corporate image environmental advertising. Ecology LQ 4(2):247–278Google Scholar
  39. Magnan A (2006) Refeudalizing the public sphere: “manipulated publicity” in the Canadian debate on GM foods. Can J Sociol 31(1):25–53Google Scholar
  40. Manheim JB (2011) Strategy in information and influence campaigns. Routledge, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Marchand R (1998) Creating the corporate soul: the rise of public relations and corporate imagery in American big business. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  42. McGarity T (2014) The disruptive politics of climate disruption. Nova L Rev 38(3):392–472Google Scholar
  43. Miller BM, Lellis J (2016) Audience responses to values-based marketplace advocacy by the fossil fuel industries. Environ Commun 10(2):249–268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mix TL, Waldo KG (2015) Know(ing) your power: risk society, astroturf campaigns, and the battle over the red rock coal-fired plant. Sociol Q 56(1):125–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Mobil Oil (1982) Evolution of Mobil’s public affairs programs 1970–81. Mobil Oil Company: Fairfax VAGoogle Scholar
  46. Palenchar M, Fitzpatrick K (2009) Secret persuaders: ethical and rhetorical perspectives on the use of public relations front groups. In: Heath RL, Toth EL, Waymer E (eds) Rhetorical and critical approaches to public relations II. Routledge, New York, pp 272–289Google Scholar
  47. Pfau M, Haigh M, Sims J, Wigley S (2007) The influence of corporate front-group stealth campaigns. Commun Res 34:73–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Plec E, Pettenger M (2012) Greenwashing consumption: the didactic framing of ExxonMobil’s energy solutions. Environ Commun 6(4):459–476CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Pomering A, Johnson LW (2009) Constructing a corporate social responsibility reputation using corporate image advertising. Australas Mark J 17:106–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Porter WM (1992) The environment of the oil company: a semiotic analysis of Chevron’s “People Do” commercials. In: Toth E, Heath R (eds) Rhetorical and critical approaches to public relations. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, pp 279–300Google Scholar
  51. Porter ME, Kramer MR (2002) The competitive advantage of corporate philanthropy. Harv Bus Rev 80(12):56–68Google Scholar
  52. Schlichting I (2014) Consumer campaigns in corporate public affairs management: the case of climate change and the German energy industry. J Commun Manag 18(4):402–421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Schmertz H (1977) Problems in communicating with and through the media. Public lecture to the Business International Chief Executives Round Table, January 12Google Scholar
  54. Schmertz H (1986) Good-bye to the low profile: the art of creative confrontation. Little, Brown and Company, BostonGoogle Scholar
  55. Schmertz H (1988) Mobil on track. Sports Inc. 14 March: 56. Accessed at:
  56. Schumann D, Hathcote J, West S (1991) Corporate advertising in America: a review of published studies on use, measurement, and effectiveness. J Advert 20(3):35–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sethi SP (1977) Advocacy advertising and large corporations: social conflict, big business image, the news media, and public policy. Lexington Books, LexingtonGoogle Scholar
  58. Shell Oil (1978) Shell Oil Company: the long range plan: go to the public to shine a tarnished Image. Madison Avenue Magazine May: 58–59Google Scholar
  59. Sievers B (2010) Civil society, philanthropy, and the fate of the commons. Tufts University Press, LebanonGoogle Scholar
  60. Smith, K. T., Smith, L. M., & Dunbar, S. (2014). Using corporate advertising to improve public perception of energy companies. J Strat Market 22(4):347–35Google Scholar
  61. St. John B III (2014a) The “creative confrontation” of Herbert Schmertz: public relations sense making and the corporate persona. Public Relat Rev 40(5):772–779CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. St. John B III (2014b) Conveying the sense-making corporate persona: the Mobil Oil “observations” columns, 1975–1980. Public Relat Rev 40(4):692–699CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Stauber J, Rampton S (2002) Toxic sludge is good for you! Common Cause PressGoogle Scholar
  64. Supran G, Oreskes N (2017) Assessing ExxonMobil’s climate change communications (1977-2014). Environ Res Lett 12:1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Tedlow R (1979) Keeping the corporate image: public relations and business, 1900–1950. JAI Press, GreenwichGoogle Scholar
  66. Tischer S, Hildebrandt L (2014) Linking corporate reputation and shareholder value using the publication of reputation rankings. J Bus Res 67:1007–1017CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Vogel D (1989) Fluctuating fortunes: the political power of business in America. Beard Books, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  68. Walker ET (2014) Grassroots for hire: public affairs consultants in American democracy. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  69. Waltzer H (1988) Corporate advocacy advertising and political influence. Public Relat Rev 14:41–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Waxman, Rep. Henry and Markey, Rep. Edward, H.R.2454, “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009,” released May 15, 2009Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Brown UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Rutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA
  3. 3.McGill UniversityMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations