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Cause Marketing from El Presidente

CITGO, the oil refiner and gasoline marketer faces a number of brand challenges. Is there a place here for cause marketing?

The average gas price in the United States is currently $3.88 a gallon, according to a report in yesterday’s USA Today, with at least half a dozen states reporting $4 a gallon gas.

Unlike our compatriots in Europe, Americans are entirely unaccustomed to high gasoline prices. It’s no exaggeration to say that President Obama’s chances of reelection in 2012 hinge, in part, on how high fuel prices stay. Pundits suggest that if gas prices nationwide in November 2011 are above $4, President Obama’s chances aren’t good.

CITGO has been owned in its entirety since 1990 by Petroleos de Venezuela, the Venezuelan state-owned petroleum company. CITGO, therefore, is effectively controlled by Hugo Chavez, the autocratic president of Venezuela who has no love for the United States, and who has expressed his feelings about the USA frequently and venomously.

Moreover, CITGO has been poor steward of the public’s trust in its refinery operations. According to Wikipedia, the company’s American refineries have violated the Clean Air Act, released illegal levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, and released hydrofluoric acid after a fire at the same refinery.

Not surprisingly to battle that trifecta of bad PR CITGO has an expensive-looking corporate image campaign, including the ad from Time magazine above. But the campaign looks slickest at Fuelinggood.com.

At the site, there’s all kinds of stories about local causes CITGO and its dealers have helped. CITGO also has an existing relationship of some standing with the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

At CITGO’s home site they trumpet their fuel oil program that benefits the poor and donations to Simon Bolivar Foundation. Chavez fancies himself a modern heir to the great Libertador.

Is it enough?

I don’t live in CITGO’s service area so I am largely uninfluenced by donations to local charities in Texas, Florida, and the rest of the Southeast. Moreover, I have a jaundiced view of Hugo Chavez.

But for me, CITGO’s efforts don’t seem like enough. I can be had after all. But I'm not cheap!

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