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Surf Life Saving risks brand damage with Ampol sponsorship

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Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) proudly showed off their major sponsor Ampol in their latest online ad. The ad shows two members in a surf patrol ATV driving along a beach in morning light. In comes the Ampol logo and a friendly voice saying “Ampol – Australia’s own”.

The ad was posted to Facebook, but has now been taken down. It managed to get a few angry comments before it disappeared. The ad is still available on Twitter and Instagram. Commenting has been turned off on Instagram, after hundreds of comments by disgusted followers. 

So why the outrage? It’s in the extreme contrast between SLSA and Ampol. One organisation known for saving lives and caring about the ocean, the other a part of the most polluting industry in the world, known for accelerating climate change. Which, by the way, will ruin summer.

By now, most people have realised we can’t recycle our way out of the climate crisis. The emissions from fossil fuels industries are massive. If we want to have impact, we cannot allow fossil fuels to enjoy community support.

What’s in it for Ampol? Fossil fuel companies know they are the new tobacco. They have read the science. They know their products are the major drivers of climate change. They know the decline of their industry is inevitable. But they also know how to drag out time. They do it by getting close to the institutions you love. They are willing to pay a lot for this.

You know that good feeling you get when you think of Surf Life Saving Australia? Ampol wants some of that good stuff to rub off on them. They want the Ampol logo to be a part of the beautiful moment when a kid is rescued from the wild ocean and safely returned to their parents. They want you on their side. 

Corporate sponsorships are not gifts, they are investments. It is safe to assume that Ampol is the major sponsor because they were willing to write the biggest cheque. There are no strong links between a petrol station chain and surf lifesaving, even if the ad tries to make a point out of the surf patrol ATV running on petrol. The engine sound in the ad is comically loud. Ampol wants you to have a positive image of them, so critiques like the one you are reading right now don’t stick. 

SLSA is carrying all the risk in this sponsorship deal. No one is going to call up Ampol headquarters and say they are never filling up at Ampol ever again because they hate SLSA. But for SLSA there is risk. Their reputation is built on being sustainable, and there is an unwritten agreement with all their volunteers that they hold SLAS’s values high. Taking fossil fuel money is disrespectful to everyone who volunteers with them. SLSA even states in their policy that they don’t take sponsorships from unethical industries. As examples they list alcohol, gambling and tobacco. How their communications department has not made sure fossil fuels are on that list, in 2021, is a mystery. 

Young people care about the climate. It will be interesting to see what this sponsorship does to recruitment. Why would someone who attends a climate march on Friday, wear a fossil fuel branded uniform on Saturday?

By Rune Woldsnes

Follow Rune Woldsnes on Twitter

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