By Garland Pollard
The Texaco brand is still a potent icon on the highways of the United States and world. As oil companies struggle with the low price of gas, this is perhaps the perfect time for its parent company to refocus attention on this icon of American history. A downturn is the time to plan for greater things.
Today, the Texaco star is still recognizable, though it is no longer as well known as it was. Part of the confusion came with Texaco’s merger with Chevron. While Chevron has wisely kept the brand (sort of unequal co-equals), it is slightly confused about it, as it has to promote two different brands of gas, even though all of that gas is coming from the same place.
This is the same issue that Exxon and Mobil faced after their merger. Again, ExxonMobil has kept both the brands, and has separate identity packages for them.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Texaco star was all about trust. The slogan was all about trust, and it was seen on NBC’s Texaco Star Theater and Huntly-Brinkley Report. Even today, those who remember the slogan can still recite the words; a reel of Texaco commercials can be seen below. The line goes:
“You can trust your car to the man who wears the star.”
It was sort of poetry, and terribly practical. Gradually, service stations declined and gas became a bit of a commodity. In the 1950s to early 1970s, regulations made gas retailers fill up your car, and so it mattered that you trusted the man who came to your car to fill it up. No woman wanted a creeper looking into her car, and down her dress, as he got her to sign the credit card carbon copy.
But as cars became more complex, it became harder for independent service stations to sell gas and to service cars. The exceptions were, and are, gas stations that have great locations in affluent communities, and have a commitment to the tradition of selling gas while they fix cars.
The super-sized gas station is today the norm; Wawa, Speedway and Racetrack offer food, 12 lanes of gasoline and easy access. Gas companies have never been strong at food retailing; it just doesn’t fit with corporate norms like drilling, refining and making deals with tin-pot dictators and federal lobbyists.
But somehow, the retail gas brand has survived. Consumers trust gas that comes from a gas company. And that leaves Texaco.
Texaco would do well to craft a strong separate identity from Chevron. For years, Texaco had separate brands like Havoline oil and Marfak lubrication, and a connection to the wealthy through its support of the Metropolitan Opera.
In Sarasota County, two interesting profiles for the Chevron and Texaco brands can be seen.
- Indepentent Texaco, No Repair: One is the local Texaco, a single location gas station and convenience store with truck fuel and food service in the back. The station on Fruitville Road stays busy, as no other stations are located near it, and it is across the street from a resort RV park, within very easy walking distance. On the property is an outdoor BBQ joint, which serves both working guys who do lawns and service business, as well as suburbanites who like an easy outdoor eatery. Gas is not sold by price; it is invariably more expensive than Racetrack but no one seems to care.
- The other model is a downtown Sarasota Chevron station, with full service gasoline and complete repair offerings. Reese Chevron has been there for generations, run by a third generation. It is very successful, and does not even have computerized pumps. Certainly, gas prices are slightly higher, but folk gladly pay it because they check your oil and will schedule service on your car right there, without having to go to an annoying lube place that tries to sell you a bunch of things you don’t want. In fact, it is so busy all the time that it is difficult to get an appointment.The station also sells retro Cokes in a bottle, and has a nifty display of gas station trucks and memorabilia.
Every time I see it and stop by, I think that if Chevron were to make a commitment, they could line up hundreds of others of these independent dealers in the model of Reese Chevron. The company would need to individually recruit dealers, train them in these methods, and perhaps finance these independent stations.
The question is how does Chevron Texaco create two identities for the essentially the same product? Perhaps Chevron focuses on service stations that have repairs, and Texaco focuses on stations with food and other offerings, but yet some franchises offer both or just one. Havoline has been a separate oil lube brand, and that sort of makes sense.
- Texaco needs to advertise to the affluent and middle class. Indeed all the gas brands need to advertise. Of late, Marathon, Hess and ExxonMobil have been doing some large scale television. It is needed, as they have had generations of youth that have grown up without any positive image of gas brands. Personally, college kids do not like or trust oil companies, and at a certain point, the oil companies must blame themselves for allowing this to happen.
- Texaco needs an array of companion brands that are just Texaco, for instance the fire truck related imagery needs to return, along with the Chief brands of Fire Chief and Sky Chief. This will differetiate Texaco from Chevron, and the others. After all, the red in Texaco is fire truck red.
- Texaco needs to bring back its kids fire trucks. They were genius, and they were one of many healthy ways that Texaco connected with youth, particularly boys. There could be many ways the return of these trucks could help Texaco. Perhaps their sale might be connected with an organization that benefits military firefighters? I will explore this in a subsequent post.
- Texaco needs to slightly separate from Chevron. Even though they are the same company, Chevron was part of Standard Oil, and Texaco was more of spindle-top wildcat company. What that means from a branding perspective needs to be determined, but it is a different worldview. Connecting with that independent American spirit would help Chevron create a constituency for its operations, and would resonate across departments, including recruiting, prospecting and marketing.
- Look closely at the super stations like RaceWay and Wawa. Not so much to exactly copy them, but to do something as bold. What if Texaco had a 12 pump gas station that had minimum convenience items, and instead was a car repair shop? That would be like merging a Firestone or Goodyear repair shop and a Marathon station. Today, the
- It is not enough to be redneck. Redneck is not a marketing position. Using NASCAR and racing can be a useful marketing tool, but it is not a strategy. Havoline has relied on this too long. What was genius about Texaco’s brand in its heyday was it was both establishment AND wildcat, all at the same time.
- Connect with your history. Texaco certainly has not forgotten its history, but it can always do better at connecting with the millions worldwide who have used or worked for the brand. And the Texas aspects should not be forgotten. Across the world, Texas is a brand as exciting and evocative as any other regional state. Use that legacy, and tell the stories.
- Do not be afraid of drilling. Just because some find oil companies not P.C., the reality is that we all have to have gas, and the rest of us 99 percenters will not be driving around in a Tesla or Volt.
- Connect with marinas and other fuel outlets: The more niche markets, the strong the brand becomes. Each market requires a different type of fuel. Many stations carry recreational fuel with no ethanol; this is for backyard warriors with John Deere tractors, as well as fishing boats. Recreational equipment and two-stroke engines are a big market, and price is not important in these small markets.
- The Texaco card is important. It is good that Chevron Texaco has a Texaco branded card. Let people pick the one they want. One smart idea might be to offer retro versions of old Texaco cards. That nostalgia might be a fun promotion, and would appeal to millenials.
- Texaco needs to go back to radio and NPR. The Metropolitan Opera is the nation’s longest running radio show, and Texaco made a big mistake in dropping it. Texaco has been disconnected to the world of the elite and affluent, and sponsorship of the radio show was a very cheap way to connect with every public radio station in the nation. While the show is already sponsored by lead Toll Brothers, Texaco would do well to jump back in and provide some support to make that connection live again. The other option is affiliating with other opera companies or symphonies. This sort of sponsorship is VERY cheap, and would create a halo around the brand.