Technology, marketing, and videotape

Oil IT Journal editor Neil McNaughton, back from an action-packed trip to Las Vegas, Houston and Austin for the MS 150 bike ride, reflects on the increasing role played by marketing in oil and gas conferences. Product placement, endorsements of technology by oil company clients—anything goes. But is Petrel really a video game? Or has Schlumberger’s marketing department gone nuts?

I mentioned before that I am an occasional listener to the BBC world service. For a while now, the beeb precedes its hourly newscast with a rather long winded ad consisting of a variety of different ethnic voices saying ‘Zees eez zee BBC from Paris,’ ‘Dis is da BBC from Rome’ ‘Thees is tha BBC from Melbourne’ and so on. The trouble with repeating the same message ad infinitum, is that it gives your audience plenty of time to reflect on its meaning—hidden or not. After a few weeks of ignoring the ad, I was forced to note a rather obvious difference between these ‘cute’ ethnic voices, and the clipped English accents of the broadcasters. A few more weeks of repetitions later, it dawned on me that these were not BBC broadcasters, they were ‘actors.’ As Churchill might have said, ‘Truth is the first casualty of advertising.’

Product placement

Similarly amusing advertising is increasingly in evidence at trade shows, conferences and even, in the ‘learned’ journals. As oil companies and their contractors do R&D deals with each other, or with the IT majors, product placement is a feature of many ostensibly technical presentations. Shell recently vaunted the merits of Microsoft’s next generation ‘Longhorn’ operating system—despite the fact that Longhorn will not be released until late 2006 at the earliest. Other product placements and alliances fluctuate and interfere with each other depending on circumstances. At the Schlumberger Technical Forum in Las Vegas this month (pages 6&7 of this issue), Schlumberger lent its official backing to Microsoft, HP and Intel. Charles Johnson, Microsoft’s manufacturing vertical MD, appeared in a video message to plug Petrel which is, apparently, ‘based on Microsoft Office and .NET.’ Johnson did a good job reading from the teleprompter as did Intel’s Paul Otellini who read that ‘Intel is working on 64 bit computing’ to let users go ‘from seismic to simulation on an Intel-based platform’. Both Microsoft and Intel’s messages were somewhat diluted in HP’s lunchtime presentation which vaunted the merits of Microsoft’s bête noire, Linux and the Intel Itanium slayer, AMD’s Opteron!


You used to hear the Schlumberger folks apologize for their marketing effort. The hidden marketing message in this was ‘we’re really a technology company—marketing is kind of beneath us’. Well all that changed with the arrival of Petrel—which first and foremost was a textbook example of marketing success for its savvy founders. In Las Vegas, Schlumberger went into marketing overdrive with a snazzy video on Petrel in the asset team.


The video involved an acrimonious debate between asset team members of suitably diverse ethnicity on why a well turned out a duster. The reservoir engineer to the geologist—‘You said there was no fault.’ The geologist to the PE—‘Your grid cells are too big.’ The PE to the driller—‘Your wells are too thin.’ And so on (jet lag induced ADD makes this account less than 100% accurate). I personally found this ‘reconstruction’ a bit fishy. I mean, in my day, acrimony and buck passing were an integral part of the ‘workflow’. But to each other’s faces? In a round table exchange of views? No way. Bucks were passed behind backs. Fingers were pointed from a safe distance. Perhaps today’s exploration mores allow for such robust debate, I really don’t know.


Going back to the video, the argumentative actors of the fictitious asset team were looking for a tool to integrate their disciplines, letting geologists see the PE’s big cells, the engineer the faults and so on. It was a pretty good airing of what (apart from marketing) has made Petrel famous. But there was also a new theme that may prove a marketing message too far. The argument goes that industry is suffering for a lack of young blood (true). That youngsters these days believe that working for the oil and gas business is selling your soul to the devil (also true). And that if we could manage to make our software like a video game, the youngsters would forget their misgivings and rush to join the new joystick-wielding asset team (hello!).

Flight of fancy

I have to say that while Petrel is a great tool, the notion that it is like a video game is a flight of marketing fancy. The further notion that if it were like a video game, it would change anything regarding the oil industry’s hiring problems is pretty sweet too!

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