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.
8 thoughts on “Amoco ascending: an oily American icon comes out from retirement.”
From Wikipedia: The logo of the BP-acquired Amoco Corporation (formerly Standard Oil of Indiana) prominently features a torch (from the Indiana State Flag) to commemorate the company’s Hoosier origins; it remains in use at the few BP stations using Amoco and Standard trade dress to maintain trademark protection.
Bingo. It’s remarkable how few people know about the company’s origins in Whiting, IN. I didn’t know it either until I did the research for my original blog article: http://dirtamericana.com/2017/01/amoco-logos-yesteryear-inner-city/
It’s a piece of Indiana history that has largely gotten buried. Perhaps this is in part why BP decided to roll out the reboot of the Amoco logo in Chicagoland first. They know it up there in The Region better than anywhere else.
Standard Oil Company of Indiana was the formal name of Amoco for many years until they finally renamed the company after its marketing brand identity.
When the Rockefeller Standard Oil Trust was broken up, the majors each became “Standard Oil of _____” according to the location of its refinery, and each was assigned a main marketing area where it owned the “Standard” name.
So in my childhood, we had Standard Oil of New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, and California. When those companies wanted to market outside their assigned “Standard” area, they had to devise another brand. New York used Socony and then became Mobil; Jersey used ESSO and Enjay then became Exxon; Ohio used Sohio and Boron; California became Chevron. Indiana used American outside of Indiana and Chicagoland and later adopted Amoco everywhere. All started with the familiar oval Standard shield and most just stuck their other trade name inside in place of Standard. (I have an old ESSO enameled steel sign in my garage.) Standard of Indiana/American Oil added the Hoosier torch.
Station wagon children of the 50s and 60s probably remember how the name inside the oval changed on long road trips.
And today, of course, there are places where two of a company’s brands share a corner. Not far from my office there is a Mobil across from an Exxon.
Thanks, Chris. I suppose this is a practice we still see on rare occasion with fast food restaurants: e.g., Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr, or Checkers/Rally’s. Those are just the first two that come to mind. Brands from yesteryear might include Jewel/Osco, or even (to a lesser extent) Walgreens/Duane Reade.
I know that the latter of these pairings is really based more on an acquisition: Walgreens has retained the Duane Reade name in limited capacity in its core market, which was metro NYC, while still opening new Walgreens locations nearby. That may be the case with some of the others as well.
And it’s funny you should mention Mobil and Exxon, one of those pairings that, if we all think about it, are naturally just one eneity, but only now that you’re mentioning it did it occur to me in an actual spatial, bricks-and-mortar context. IOW, I could easily see an Exxon and then encounter a Mobil a mile down the road and it wouldn’t occur to me that they are one and then same, ExxonMobil. Sometimes the NYSE listing just doesn’t fully translate when it plays out in terms of location decisions…to the parent company’s advantage.
LOL…the Exxon across from Mobil near my office just converted to Amoco. Like, this week.
Hmmm. Maybe the Exxon-Mobil proximity proved a self-defeating venture after all?
Think 🤔 one just open on my side of town.
Amoco Argentina Oil Company un My hardt for ever !!!