BP Ultimate Advertising Fail - Why You Really Shouldn't Use Premium Petrol


If you spoke to friends the way advertising speaks to you, you’d get smacked in the mouth all the time, and you’d soon have no friends. This is because advertising is the systematic delivery of premium-grade bullshit gift-wrapped in the presumption that you are an imbecile.

BP did this recently with the launch of it’s newest 98-octane ‘Ultimate’ premium petrol. So, let’s grab BP's gonads and punt them through the posts on the full, from way back in the mid-field.

This jihad-on-bullshit question was inspired by Trevor who recently asked:

"On Channel 7 News you pointed out it wasn’t economical to buy premium fuel in a car calibrated to run on standard - based on the cost per kilometre. But I thought premium fuels also delivered cleaner, smoother running and made your engine last longer as well. What gives?" - Trevor

Here's the fuel economy report on Seven News >> along with an earlier report from a few months back, which drills right down into the technicalities of octane rating >> and stuff like that.

What is premium fuel?

The bottom line is that premium fuels have a higher octane rating and they are required for this reason by some engines. Most cars don’t need premium fuel, and using it is a waste of money. That’s why premium fuel also comes packaged up with a staggering side-serve of complementary bullshit.

The marketing is just this side of an outright lie. The shiny messaging comes to you sexed up with pseudo-science, dripping with half-truths, and served on a bed of Spielbergian production values. So it’s hardly surprising ordinary people routinely fall for this shit. Let’s take a look.

Advertising as 'education': huh?

The notion that a human being might derive meaningful, credible information from a flying green sphere that emerges from a filling station awning in the dead of night and launches into a Scottish-accented dissertation on premium fuel’s functionality is absurd. It’s up there with the burning bush.

If this ever happens to me, whatever is ultimately said, I’m not going to start buying premium. I’m going straight in for a positron emission tomography head scan, and I’m blocking out all the next day for a lengthy chat with a neurologist.

Doubtless, like me, you've had all sorts of problems in all sorts of cars. And there is a certain amount of mental imagery associated with those problems and the ultimate rectification. But not even high on LSD half cut with baby laxative could I imagine the problem in the context of a pink neon olde-worlde ship’s anchor dragging on the frigging road, and its attendant chains wrapped around my car.

And the white knight of rectification - the fix - well … I guess I could imagine that in all kinds of ways. But not, quote “a thousand ravenous piranhas” - especially not the nonexistent, half happy-looking neon green kind. Give me a break - if your mental age is greater than your shoe size this advertisement pre-supposes that you are a functional imbecile.

Corporate clowns

How in hell do these pony-tailed advertising pricks get away with it? BP spent millions producing and disseminating this bullshit ad around the world. Millions. Somewhere a high-level conversation was had between the creative agency and BP senior management: ‘So, this car’s driving along, dragging a big pink pirate’s anchor, it stops at the servo and a BP alien sphere flies out of the bunting, explains the benefits, smashes the anchor and unleashes the thousand neon piranhas - and after that, happy motoring. We think this has the best chance of converting swinging punters to buy premium.’

What kind of crack-smoking, out-of-touch-with-reality boardroom executive jerk-off signs off on this shit? You wouldn’t trust a person with judgement that faulty to operate a roadside work site stop-go sign.

So that’s about it for insulting your intelligence - presuming you’re an imbecile.

Now, let’s talk the bullshit.

BP's BS - the dirt on 'dirt'

Your engine is clogging up with dirt … presumably because you’re not using BP Ultimate. What exactly is the source of this alleged dirt? Presumably it’s coming from some lesser BP fuel you’ve sadly elected to use because you’re a cheapskate arsehole. One of the hidden messages in this ad is ‘don’t use our cheap, shit fuel, because it’ll clog you up faster than three kilos of Camembert for dinner.’ That standard shit BP fuel must be dripping with dirt. All the other grades of BP fuel must be almost half dirt - given the implied epidemic of clogged, pink anchor-chain-dragging cars out there in the public domain. Arseholes. It’s like a bad magic trick - where you get to see what the truly shit magician is really doing in the background. Ahhh - he’s not really cutting that chick in half at all. And I paid good money for this seat.

But the truth is, there is no epidemic of dirty engines on the road - because gasoline - the regular stuff - is a very powerful solvent. Nothing precipitates out. Nothing sticks to the walls of a fuel system. Take a look in the oldest fuel tank you’ve got. My lawn mower is almost 30 years old - it’s had the same Briggs and Stratton five-horsepower four-stroke petrol engine all that time. It sits inactive for six months every year. If you look inside the fuel tank: It’s all good. Shiny metal.

The idea that standard fuel delivers dirt, clogs a fuel system like a hamburger and fries every day laying waste to your arteries is simply bullshit. BP Ultimate’s thousand neon piranhas are chemically constructed with (quote) ‘active technology’ (whatever that is) cleverly to solve a problem that does not exist.

The marketing pitch for BP Ultimate is as scientifically robust as voodoo. It’s like eating the wafer and drinking the wine with a few incantations in church and actually believing it’s literally the body and the blood of Christ. Believing in BP Ultimate is like chowing down on a pack of Oreos and quaffing a bottle of Jim Beam, listening to Jailhouse Rock, and believing you’re going 100 per cent Hannibal Lecter on Elvis. You have to be mentally ill to buy into this shit, on an intellectually robust level.

Creative chemistry

What exactly is this allegedly advanced chemical additive ‘green piranha’ package carefully tailored in a secret BP laboratory to solve the vexed and prolific non-problem of car holding back pink anchor dirt? It would have to be a solvent more powerful than petrol itself - and yet compatible with the hydrocarbon cocktail we call gasoline. With aggressive mechanical micro-abrasion … that also didn’t damage piezo-electric fuel injectors. It would have to have no effect on the fuel’s octane rating, and despite its chemical and micro-mechanical aggressiveness on the pink chain-smashing front those molecular neon green piranhas would have to be comprehensively benign in the context of all the materials used inside the fuel system - on new and old cars - as well as totally emissions-friendly. There’s a name for a chemical compound that does all of that: Imaginary.

See also:

Feel the benefit(s)

If there was actually a benefit, it would be objective. BP would spruik it. See, there are dozens - hundreds - of proper, scientific chemical properties. Octane rating. Flashpoint. Energy density. Enthalpy of combustion. Latent heat of vaporisation. It goes on and on. There are only two objective claims made about this neon piranha green shit. One of them is the octane rating - the resistance to autoignition under pressure. The other is a slight improvement in fuel economy.

More MPG

So, what exactly can you expect there? According to BP, quote, “over time” you can expect, “quote” up to 21 more miles per tank. That’s about 33.6 kilometres. It’s rather a long walk. About 80 per cent of a marathon. In every tankful. Let’s call it 35 kilometres, for the sake of argument. That’s “over time”.

The amount of time: well, that’s not stated, inconveniently. Perhaps it’s over geologic time. Who knows? Presumably that’s to ensure you don’t ever stray and buy any of those implicitly implicitly filthy lesser shit BP fuels. You know, the ones that dirty up your engine and cause this problem. But 35 extra kays - that’s fantastic … except for the fine print. “Up to” 35 extra kays.

The 'up to' caveat

Whenever advertising says “up to” anything - you know a fresh shovel full of steaming bullshit is headed your way. It’s like “home-style”. Home-style spaghetti carbonara. That shit is made in a factory. “Up to” is a special kind of advertising code. It means: ‘not more than’. In this case it means ‘anything from zero to about 35 extra kilometres’. So the claimed benefit is: ‘could be zero, but definitely not more than 35 extra kilometres per tank, using BP Ultimate’. This is the Wonderbra of fuel economy claims. And, remember: the only thing wonderful about the wonderbra is: Whenever it comes off, people wonder where the tits went.

What to expect

You probably will get a little better fuel economy using BP Ultimate. This is because higher octane fuels have slightly higher energy density, owing to being a slightly different chemical cocktail. The keyword here is ‘slightly’. And also because most modern engines adapt up - slightly - by advancing the timing in some operating conditions. The thousand green piranhas have nothing to do with this. But let’s give BP the benefit of the doubt - let’s say you get 35 extra kays out of every tank. And let’s say you’ve got a 70-litre tank. That’s about average for a medium-sized car. That’s five per cent better fuel economy. Sounds great.

Independent testing

We actually got two per cent better economy from 98, compared with 91, and 6.6 per cent better economy out of 98, compared with e10, during our Seven News fuel investigation. So five per cent seems reasonable. It depends what fuel you’re comparing it to.

Tested Relative Fuel Economy (L/100km)

* Measured under controlled conditions - controlled test track, driver and vehicle

The only problem is: there’s an 18 per cent difference in price between e10 and 98. And spending 18 per cent more, in order to derive a 6.6 per cent increase in fuel economy is, effectively, digging yourself an economically irrational black hole precisely 11.4 per cent deep - because that’s how much of your fuel budget you’ll be blowing out your exhaust pipe.

That’s unless you buy into the green-piranha / pink anchor BP bullshit. Because this is how the cake of advertising gets baked. Insult your intelligence, serve you the bullshit: Where do I sigh?

Are you buying in?

BP is immorally and unethically preying on punters with no technical training, who want to do the right thing and keep their cars running properly. It’s disgraceful. And they’re doing it because there’s a lot more profit in selling premium gasoline than there is in the standard stuff.

What they’re really asking you to do is bend over just a little further and spread your cheeks a little wider every time you’re on the forecourt. Because if you believe that bullshit, that’s where the thousand ravenous green BP piranhas are really headed.