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August 3, 2007

Gas Stations Need Better Brand Naming

Gas stations notoriously have a hard time achieving brand name loyalty from customers.

Why? Because we are simply not loyal to gas stations, despite the fact that we all recognize the various brand names.

We may insist on the same brand name cola or perfume but when it comes to gas stations, we'll take just about anything.

Gas is gas, right? (Imagine Coke&trade saying "cola is cola" or Google saying "all search engines are pretty much alike.")

We are really loyal to car brand names, but not to the stuff we put in the cars.

This has led many gas station brand names to take some desperate measures to lure customers, like offering all kinds of activities at the station itself as well as additives to the gas you pump into your car.

Guys, guys... it's not about the gas. It's about brand naming!

gulf.gifAt least one company is getting the message: Gulf Oil LP is switching the 11 stations it owns along the Mass Pike from Exxon to its own brand this month on "one of its biggest moves yet to promote New England's only major locally based gas brand."

They are also getting the Citgo stores along the Pike to switch to the Gulf brand name... what a breakthrough.

Ironically, Gulf is really a ghost brand that bears no real relation to the famous oil company of 1901.

Gulf Oil was bought in 1984 by Chevron and Cumberland Farms Inc. bought rights to the brand in 1994 to set up Gulf Oil LP jointly with Catamount Petroleum Corp. Chevron still owns the name.

Using the Gulf name along the Pike is all about trying to encourage New England customers to show some regional loyalty.

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Posted by William Lozito at August 3, 2007 8:26 AM
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I'm all for brand identity, but when it comes to gasoline, I'm purely utilitarian - I'll fill up where it's inexpensive and convenient. No company has been able to convince me of anything that differentiates one dose of gasoline from another. Nothing about the experience of filling up at a Shell, Gulf, Exxon, or whatever is unique or compelling. I cannot imagine finding a reason for brand loyalty to a brand of gasoline - but maybe some incredibly creative group will find the key somewhere! THAT would be a branding coup!

Is it really about the name or is it about some other, desperately needed differentiation that will cause any of us to turn left at the intersection vs. right to get gas?
My company does a bunch of work for BP - so full disclosure there. I do think they/we have doen a pretty good job of differentiating BP from the crowd. I grew up in New England and never knew any of the story you just revealed about Gulf being regionally-based. I wonder if enough people (especially younger people) know or care about that. What is the gas station experience like at Gulf? What makes them different in any way? That is what will offer meaning to the brand (and the name).

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