In 1979, 64 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. oil industry. With a disapproval rating so high, California-based Chevron retreated from the public eye, discontinuing corporate advertising campaigns until a less hostile environment presented itself. By 1982, the situation had improved enough for Chevron to restart effective communications with consumer audiences. Under the leadership of Lewis Winters, Chevron’s Public Opinion Research group used psychographic research to select the “Inner-Directed” segment of the population as the target audience for their newest communications program.
The objective of the program was to use image advertising to increase favorable attitudes of Chevron within the Inner-Directed audience, a societally conscious group of people who held strongly negative opinions of Chevron. Inner-directeds were highly concentrated in California, Chevron’s home state, making them an even more attractive audience to try to influence. From a business perspective, Chevron’s overarching objective (to bolster its image within the consumer audience), was extremely worthwhile.
Though they couldn’t know it at the time, Chevron’s proactive measure of restarting communications in 1982 would be heightened by a consistent improvement in overall favorability towards the oil industry for the next six years. If consumers had increased their tolerance for the oil industry, it was a strategically important play to leverage as much of that goodwill as possible for the Chevron brand, and ultimately, for the company’s bottom line.
In this way, Chevron was working to capture the lion’s share of the value created by the industry as a whole, and consequently, consumers would see Chevron as the symbol of the U.S. oil industry. Though Chevron chose to target the Inner-Directed audience, they may have realized more immediate gains by focusing on the outer-directed audience.
Outer-Directeds made up the largest of all consumer groups (70 percent of all U.S. consumers and 71 percent of Californian consumers), and also held the most favorable opinion of Chevron going into 1982. With this revised targeting initiative, Chevron would essentially be working to deepen favorable attitudes instead of improve negative ones. If Chevron decided to target the Outer-Directeds, they would have been able to leverage useful insights that naturally aligned with the company’s brand history and value. Among these insights:
* The “Belonger” subset of the Outer-Directeds (representing the American middle class) leans toward conformity and “fitting in.” They are also nostalgic and sentimental by nature. Chevron could have used these insights to leverage the history of their brand as an American tradition; a brand that has deep roots in the American economy and especially within California.
* The “Emulator” subset of the Outer-Directeds are ambitious and focused on getting ahead through upward mobility. Chevron could have used this insight to create a shared vision by retelling the story of the company’s rise and growth…from a single entity to a huge corporation. They may have also been able to extract value from their historical relationship with the Rockefeller family.