BP buys Google oil spill search ad space

Google search

BP has bought up oil spill-related search terms as the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico nears its tenth week.

Anyone attempting to find out more information on the leak by typing "oil spill" or "oil disaster" into Google, for example, will be faced not by the strongly worded rebuke from US president Barack Obama over the company's handling of the disaster, or details of the devastating environmental impact it is having, but instead a link to a page on the BP website alongside the message "learn more about how BP is helping".

The company has bought the top ad space for a number of spill-related search terms on not just Google but Bing and Yahoo too, which between them hold a near-universal majority of the global search market. The practice is believed to be costing BP as much as $10,000 per day.

The BP page contains details on the measures BP is taking to counter the damage, including links to the press releases and video clips from top BP executives.

Spokesman Toby Odone told ABC News that buying search terms simply made it easier for the company to share news about its efforts in the Gulf amid the overwhelming attention currently being focused on the subject.

He added that the page also helped those looking for information on filing claims against the company, reporting oil on the beach and signing up to volunteer.

In many ways buying up search terms is the digital equivalent of a company taking out a full page advert in a newspaper to print a letter of apology.

But however understandable or well-meaning BP's online charm offensive is, it's not having the desired effect. Indeed, with one of the world's worst ecological disasters in history close to entering its third month, objections are likely to be as much about the move's timing as its ethics.

The ads have already been met with a barrage of criticism across the various Twitter groups set up in opposition to BP's handling of the situation. Spoof feed BPGlobalPR, with around 150,000 followers, mocked: "We're paying Google a lot of money to make sure you only have access to the best possible info on the oil spill: our info."

Earlier this week US president Barack Obama said he was looking for some "ass to kick" over an environmental disaster that has left 20,000 barrels of oil gushing out of the well each day since it was damaged in late April.