How BP's Oil Spill Will Create a Gusher of Money for P&G's Dishwashing Liquid

Last Updated May 4, 2010 1:51 PM EDT

There's one company that will benefit massively from the BP (BP) oil spill in the Gulf: Procter & Gamble (PG), which makes the only product that can be used to clean oil-soaked animals -- Dawn dishwashing liquid. P&G's PR windfall traces its origin to an obscure "best practices" document published in 2003 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That document contains a note, in bold, on page 32, under the section that deals with how to clean birds caught in oil slicks:

The only bird-cleaning agent that is recommended at this time is Dawn® dishwashing liquid (regular, not antibacterial formula) because it removes oil from feathers; is non-toxic; and does not leave a residue. Other methods or products are not recommended for use or testing during an oil spill at this time.
Somewhere within P&G's massive organization, someone spent a considerable amount of time persuading the FWS* with the International Bird Rescue Research Center, which has worked with Dawn for over 30 years. The IBRRC persuaded the FWS to adopt Dawn in its rulebook. And now that effort is about to pay off in spades. Managers take note: It's not always the big picture, single-focus moves that pay the most dividends in marketing. Sometimes the little details are winners too.

There have so far been at least 209 media mentions of Dawn in relation to the oil spill -- so the return on investment is already kicking in.

P&G is shipping 2,000 bottles of Dawn to the Gulf region where the oil is expected to hit. That probably won't be enough, but P&G is likely to step up its efforts as the disaster occurs -- and as the news media requests information about Dawn.

P&G has also been extremely lucky, if that's the right word, regarding the oil spill. It launched a commercial in 2009 that touted its donations from Dawn revenues that go to wildlife cleanup (video below).

If you look at the Dawn site, you'll see that P&G doesn't automatically donate from your Dawn purchase to wildlife rescue. You have to log in and "activate" your donation -- -- which gives P&G some marketing information it can use to sell more Dawn. (P&G might want to announce that this year a flat percentage of all Dawn sales will go to Gulf cleanup efforts in order to avoid accusations that it's exploiting the disaster.)

These things can go a long way: After Hurricane Katrina, Walmart (WM) set up sites to help refugees with food, clothing and shelter. Within days it transformed its corporate image from "rapacious exploiter of low-paid labor" to "responsive organization that can move more quickly than the federal government."

*Correction: This item was corrected to reflect that P&G worked with the IBRRC, which in turn worked with the FWS. Apologies for the error. Related: