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A brief history of 5 iconic oil business brands

27/03/2019
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For many people their main interaction with our industry is at the petrol pump. They hand over some money and they get to put petrol or diesel into their car. Beyond that, what’s the difference between all of the oil businesses out there in the eyes of consumers? That’s where branding has historically played a part in helping oil businesses attract customers and stand out from their competitors.
Effective branding has, and continues to, play an important role in the oil industry
Aside from being the Editor of EngineeringPro, I’m also the Group Marketing Director at Fircroft, so branding, marketing and advertising have always held a keen interest for me. Since starting at Fircroft I’ve spent time reading and studying how the brands of oil companies have evolved from the early days of the oil rush through to today’s age of the energy transition. 

Here are the stories of the biggest and most interesting oil business brands.

Shell


Shell has achieved something that all great brands should aspire to. Nearly everyone can recognise the company’s logo and identify it as Shell, without the need for the word ‘Shell’. Drive along and spot the famous ‘Pecten’ symbol and you’ll instantly know that you’re approaching a Shell petrol station.

Although the Pecten symbol has evolved over time, it has remained a consistent presence on Shell’s consumer touchpoints. It’s this consistent brand expression which has made the logo a ubiquitous symbol within the public’s collective consciousness.
The evolution of Shell's Pecten logo.
(The evolution of Shell’s Pecten logo. Image via Shell).

The Origins of the Pecten


There are conflicting stories about the origin of Shell’s adoption of the Pecten logo, but the one that seems most likely involves Shell’s founder, Marcus Samuel, naming his company in honour of his father who had run a business selling seashells to collectors. This naming convention was also reflected in the name of the first tanker Samuel’s commissioned, which was called Murex- the Latin word for a genus of sea snails.

It was 1904 when Shell formally adopted the Pecten logo which is recognisable today. Between 1900 and 1904 Shell had been using a rudimentary mussel shell logo. Since then the Pecten logo has been refined, in part to allow for easier reproduction as print and design technologies have changed. (In the days before fax machines and the internet many logos would contain fine details which could become blurred and distorted at small sizes and when duplicated. From the 1950s onwards, Shell continued to simplify the Pecten to make it more commercially usable).

Today’s Pecten logo dates back to 1971 when it was designed by Raymond Loewy, who has also created logos for BP and Exxon.
Shell's colourways of yellow and red have also played an important role in building their brand profile.

The Shell colourways


As much of a recognisable part of Shell’s brand as the Pecten is the company’s distinctive yellow and red colourway. First introduced on Shell’s petrol stations in California around 1915, the colourway has two origin stories. The first goes that many of the first settlers of California were of Spanish origin, with the yellow and red colours being those of Spain. Shell hoped that by using these colours it would attract these settlers to use its petrol stations over rivals. The other story goes that one of the Directors of Shell at the time, a Mr Graham, who was of Scottish-origin suggested the use of red and yellow as these colours form the basis of the Royal Standard of Scotland. Which ever story is true, the Shell colourway has remained in use through to today.

BP


BP’s brand story begins with a series of predecessor businesses starting with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) which was formed by William D’Arcy in 1908. It wasn’t until 1916 that the fledgling company acquired the British Petroleum Company- the first instance of the brand name. Despite the name, the British Petroleum Company had German origins. It had been established as the marketing arm of German firm Europäische Petroleum Union in Britain.

From then on, the letters BP would become a familiar sight as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company entered new markets to sell its gasoline products.
The evolution of BP's shield, and later Helios, logo.
(The evolution of BP’s shield, and later Helios, logo).

Enter the shield


The first iterations of the BP logo were simplistic to say the least. The first examples of the logo focused predominantly on large black BP letters. The early 1920s saw BP draw upon patriotic themes using the Union Flag as the backdrop to the now ubiquitous BP letters. 

It wasn't until the early 1930s that BP would adopt the iconic shield logo. The first version was created by AR Saunders and retained the simplistic black BP letters, albeit with a slender shield outline. The mid 1940s saw an injection of colour into the logo with the first use of BP’s green and yellow colourway.

It was in 1961 that renowned designer Raymond Loewy got his hands on the logo. Loewy had also been responsible for the logos of Exxon and Shell, and his influence on the shield design is clear- in line with his other work, Loewy simplified the logo, removing shadow, choosing a cleaner edge for the shield and making the logo overall more commercially usable.

In 1989, BP’s shield received its final treatment. The design company Siegel & Gale was handed the task of honing the logo still further. It was during this treatment of the logo that BP arrived at the colourway which continues to be used today.
The turn of the millennium saw BP completely change its logo, branding and messaging.
(The turn of the millennium saw BP completely change its logo, branding and messaging. Image via BP).

Beyond Petroleum


The turn of the Millennium saw a radical change for BP’s brand direction. Under the direction of Lord Browne, BP commissioned the esteemed design agency Landor to completely rethink the company’s brand and messaging.

The shield was dropped for what Landor called the ‘Helios mark’. Resembling a stylised sunflower, the interlocking parts of the Helios logo ‘represent the diversity of (BP’s) people, products and services. Its radiance is a constant reminder of (BP’s) aspirations and purpose: to affect life on earth in positive and profound ways’.

Gone too was the name British Petroleum. BP became Beyond Petroleum’, which became BP’s rallying cry for a new vision and strategy. The new name represents a company which is embracing the energy transition and moving beyond its roots in oil and gas.

Chevron


Tracing its roots back to the late-nineteenth century and a web of predecessor companies, Chevron’s brand is equally as ubiquitous as those of its rivals. The company’s extensive retail network of fuel stations across the Americas and worldwide mean that Chevron’s distinct red and blue logo holds widespread recognition.

Chevron emerged from the breakup of the Standard Oil empire, when Standard Oil of California (Socal) became an independent company. Throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s Socal undertook a series of mergers and acquisitions. Socal’s US expansion continued with a merger with Standard Oil Co. (Kentucky) in 1961. In 1977, the company made a major organisational change when it formed Chevron USA Inc, merging six domestic oil and gas operations into one. This change was driven by a need to establish a nationwide identity and a consolidated organisation.

The newly consolidated company chose “Chevron” as its new name as this had been used on the company’s products as far back as the 1930s and had become its most recognisable mark of identification among consumers around the world.
The evolution of Chevron's logo to today's gradient led iteration.
(The evolution of Chevron’s logo to today’s gradient led iteration).

The history of the chevron


Despite the various organisational changes, Chevron’s distinctive logo can be traced back to 1931 when the V first appeared. Since then, it has changed relatively little, with the exception of a change at some point in the 1960s when the logo effectively dropped from three stripes to two. In 1969 Lippincott Mercer, a designer who had helped create Campbell Soup Company’s iconic red-and-white can, took on the challenge of giving the Chevron logo an update.

In 2005, Chevron’s logo received its latest update with gradients being added to the design to add an element of depth and dynamism to the logo.

Eni 


Although perhaps not as well known as some of its larger competitors Eni has earned a place in this article thanks to the fascinating tale behind its logo and wider brand identity.

Founded and established by law in 1953 from an existing company, Agip, Eni’s name was originally an acronym for the company’s full title Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (National Hydrocarbons Authority).
The original Eni logo design which was sourced from a public competition.
(The original Eni logo design which was sourced from a public competition. Pictured here is a piece of the brand guidelines stipulating the angle at which the dog must be positioned. Image via Eni).

Man’s best friend


The new company had a name, but it needed a logo.

Enrico Mattei, Eni’s founder, proposed a nationwide competition to select a new logo. Held in May 1952, the competition focused on the company’s two flagship products, Supercortemaggiore petrol and Agipgas natural gas. Entrants were required to submit two billboard posters, two logos and the livery for a petrol pump. It was open to all Italians and offered total prize money of 10 million lire (about €160,000 in today’s money). The Italian public eagerly participated with over 4,000 submissions received within only a few weeks. Such were the strength of submissions the competition jury had to meet 14 times to select the winner.

In September of 1952, the winner was announced: the six-legged dog, a graphic synthesis representing strength, energy and optimism.
Eni's famous six-legged dog logo continues to be used today.
(Eni’s famous six-legged dog logo continues to be used today. Image via Bates).

The logo was designed by the sculptor Luigi Broggini. According to Eni, the logo ‘reminds us of a dog – but also of a Persian lion, walking towards the west with its head turned east. It recalls a chimera in the inclination of its body, boasting a tail unlike that of any dog. But it also resembles a dragon, with spikes along its back and spewing fire from its mouth’.

More simply, the logo represents an imaginary animal symbolising the sum of a car’s four wheels and the two legs of its driver.

The six-legged dog: man’s best friend on four wheels.

The unique logo- with its fascinating backstory- continues to be used today throughout the entirety of Eni’s operations, from its upstream and downstream operations through to its service stations and marketing activity.

ExxonMobil


Formed by one of the world’s largest corporate mergers in November 1999, ExxonMobil is made up of two constituent companies- Exxon and Mobil- which both have a rich brand heritage. Today’s logo is based on a conjunction of the two prior company’s logos, so we’ll tell the story of how each one was developed.
The two companies which merged to become ExxonMobil had rich brand heritages in their own right
(Image via ExxonMobil).

Exxon


Exxon traces its roots back to 1973, when it replaced the Esso, Enco, and Humble brands in the US. 

Esso was a trademark of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, and caused complaints from other Standard Oil spinoffs as they believed that its phonetic similarity to the acronym of parent company (‘SO’) would give it an unfair advantage in the marketplace. As a result, the use of Esso as a trademark was restricted in the US (although the Esso name continues to be used internationally).
Whilst the Esso logo couldn't be used in the US, it was used throughout the rest of the world.
(Image via Mike Mozart, Flickr).

With the Esso name off the table, Raymond Loewy (the mind behind the Shell, Chevron and BP logos) was hired to create a new name and logo for the company.

Although it has not been confirmed, it is thought that Loewy proposed ‘Exxon’ and came up with seventy-six rough pencil sketches based on the word, placing the visual emphasis on the double ‘x’. According to design website Logo Design Love, ‘The two x’s subliminally recalled the ‘s’s’ in Esso and thus helped ease the transition from the old name to the new’.
The Exxon logo then remained in use and largely unchanged until the merger with Mobil in 1999.

Mobil


Following the break-up of Standard Oil in 1911, the Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony) was founded. In 1920, the company registered the name ‘Mobiloil’ as a trademark. In 1955, the company was renamed Socony Mobil Oil Company, and in 1963 it settled on its final name of Mobil, which it would use until the 1999 merger with Exxon.
One of the early iterations of the Mobil logo featuring the Pegasus mascot.
(One of the early iterations of the Mobil logo featuring the Pegasus mascot. Image via Mobil).

During the period when Mobil was used as the name of a product line (rather than for the company as a whole) the most distinctive and visually striking feature of its logo was the ‘Pegasus’ winged horse device. This appeared sporadically during the early years of the company’s existence and was then used consistently from the 1930s through to 1963 when the Mobil name was used, not just for a product line, but for the company as a whole.
An early sketch of the simplified Mobil logo.
(An early sketch of the simplified Mobil logo. Image via Tom Geismar, 1964).

With Mobil deciding upon its name, the company brought in Chermayeff & Geismar to develop a new logo and graphic identity. The firm decided upon a clean break from the previous logos and created a radically simplified, elegant logo- blue, but with an eye-popping red ‘o’. The idea of the red ‘o’ came about partly to reinforce a design concept to use circular canopies, pumps and displays elements which Mobil was installing at its fuel stations at the time. It was also used to help people pronounce the name correctly (Mo-bil, not Mo-bile).
The final Mobil logo which was used until the company's merger with Exxon in 1999.
(The final Mobil logo which was used until the company’s merger with Exxon in 1999. Image via Mobil).

This new, fresh logo remained virtually unchanged until the 1999 Exxon merger. (Mobil’s Pegasus mascot also lived on between 1963 and 1999 on equipment, vehicles and buildings, but not as a primary brand logo).

Have your say


So, that’s our very brief history of some iconic oil business brands. Do you have a favourite? Are there any that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below! The best comments will feature in the next edition of the EngineeringPro newsletter.

Is your brand up to the task?


You’ve just read a brief history of some of the most iconic, effective oil business brands, so it’s time to ask- is your brand up to the task? A strong, relevant brand within your marketplace can make a huge difference to sales, customer perception, talent attraction and more. If you’d like to find out more about how Fircroft’s Branding service can transform your business, contact us today for a free consultation
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A brief history of 5 iconic oil business brands - Time to read 13 min
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