Why Steyer’s “Sucker Punch” failed to hit the energy industry

Posted by on Jan 29, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

Why Steyer’s “Sucker Punch” failed to hit the energy industry

Impact of “sucker punch” anti-oilsands ads was pre-empted (temporarily at least) by U.S. President’s talk of natural gas

By Bruce Cameron, President, Return On Insight, January 29, 2014

Over the past two days (January 28 through midday January 29), online mentions of natural gas have spiked upward dramatically. Mentions of natural gas (20,823 and rising fast) peaked almost as high as mentions of pipelines (24,640).

Why did natural gas “explode” so to speak?

Mentions of natural gas peaked much higher than pipelines or oilsands because President Obama used his State of the Union address to highlight how natural gas could help power America’s future. The resulting media exposure for natural gas, rising to 11.2 million people from late yesterday through midday January 29th, dwarfed exposure for pipelines (8.1 million) or oilsands (6.3 million).

It is interesting to note that overall sentiment toward natural gas did not improve as result of the President’s speech. By linking natural gas to the challenge of replacing aging coal powered transmission plants, the President may have unwittingly diminished the image of natural gas for some Americans. But the President did succeed in shifting the narrative away from pipelines and toward the prospect of natural gas being America’s future fuel.

The President’s speech also served to pre-empt Tom Steyer, the anti oilsands billionaire activist whose NextGen Climate Action organization ran ads targeting the Keystone pipeline. The ads likened Keystone to a “Sucker Punch” to America, claiming that Chinese ownership of some oilsands assets (Nexen, Dover, MEG Energy) revealed the true beneficiary of approving the controversial project: ‘those dirty communists across the Pacific’. The ad received considerable media coverage in Canada in the lead-up to the State of the Union address, but it didn’t gain much online traction in the US or Canada after the speech (35,000 views and rising).

Finally, here is a comment from a blogger at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology about “why it’s good that Obama didn’t mention Keystone”. For anyone interested in an adult conversation about energy in North America, this piece illustrates that pragmatism is still alive and well in America:


Return On Insight integrates the best techniques from public opinion research and social media monitoring to create communications strategies. For commentary contact Bruce Cameron, at [email protected]


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