A few years ago, while roaming the streets of central Allentown, I saw what had to be a relic from a previous generation: the classic red, white, and blue of the Amoco logo. The torch and oval were so ubiquitous and iconic that even Americans born after 1990 should recognize them—maybe even those who were kiddos as recently as 2000.
Amoco shields were everywhere back then. But they’re hard to spot today: after British Petroleum (BP) purchased the American Oil Company in 1998, it retained the Amoco brand for several more years, but eventually all Amocos became BP. Any Amoco logo that survived was probably a relic affixed to a long-vacant shell of a gas station, or, as was the case in Allentown, a mom-and-pop establishment purchased the property and retained the sign for nostalgia, willfully incurring the risk of a copyright violation from BP…except who cares. It’s a single shop called A-1 Gas, and BP has bigger fish to fry. Amoco iconography was the stuff of nostalgia.
Funny thing is, these days the BP-Amoco merger may actually once again have some real skin in the game. Take a look at this gas station in New Albany, Indiana:
It looks like another abandoned one, where an Amoco logo that has been in neglect for fifteen years sits there, its bold colors fading, the brand all but stripped away from the structure itself. Except these gas pumps aren’t so faded.
They look awfully clean, and they have the modern digital interface we expect at gas pumps, at least in any national chain gas stations. They even have the microchip processor.
Clearly these aren’t old gas pumps, and it turns out that red pickup parked outside the convenience store structure wasn’t just a junker. It belonged to a fellow working on the interior. This is an old facility getting renovated and ready for a new tenant. Stepping back to the edge of the property reveals a banner that resolves any further ambiguities.
“Coming Soon”, there on the left edge of the photo, is a Krispy Krunchy Chicken, the carryout restaurant component to what looks indeed to be an Amoco gas station.
It’s a phenomenon that more and more Americans are discovering: the Amoco brand has returned. BP executives decided that the powerful image was worthy of a reboot back in 2017 and began testing the reintroduction of the classic insignia at various new gas stations in metro Chicago within the next year. New Albany, across the Ohio River from Louisville, isn’t all that close to Chicago, but it’s not surprising that the brand would become visible as part of a second-phase rollout: the ripples radiating outward from Chicago would hit New Albany a lot sooner than, say, Allentown PA. The oil mega-company hasn’t been too chatty about this strategy: this slow rollout only seems to be earning fanfare at the local level, as evidenced by this St. Louis news segment from last December. Truth be told, the idea has percolated for quite some time: various BP franchisees caterwauled in unison about the need for a return to the Amoco logo and name back in 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill so sullied the brand’s reputation that oil industry experts questioned if BP could ever recover its market share. But BP rejected the appeal at the time, hoping to bolster a reputation for an offering an environmentally sound approach—note the introduction of the greenish sunburst logo on the eve of the worst spill in world history—and stuck to their guns with their brand.
Nearly a decade later, however, BP has decided to resurrect the Amoco brand as an attempt to bolster its market share, starting in the nation’s third largest metro and working outward. It’s not entirely irrational: much like Marriott’s decision to locate two variants of its brand within walking distance of one another (as I recently wrote about), the juxtaposition of BP and Amoco won’t necessarily split the market in two. After all, most people don’t even think twice about the merger when looking for gas; probably half the population has completely forgotten or was never even aware that it took place. This might also explain why the company has been somewhat reticent about the new brand; it’s actually more lucrative for them if people think BP and Amoco are just two companies selling fuel. Pick BP, or pick the Amoco across the street; either way, the same corporation wins. And the yellow-blue-green “nature” motif of recent years may be starting to wear out its welcome; in fact, BP might be estimating that a emergent embrace of patriotic colors in the Amoco logo is worthy of capitalization. Regardless, it seems possible that Middle America will soon be once again replete with what we might call a “vintage” brand through giant ovular signs. Time will only tell if it radiates out to the coasts, where they might be a tad skeptical. They are the ones who bear the brunt of an oil spill, after all.