Mobil was once a brand that stood for absolute quality in all aspects of its operations, from its gas stations to PBS programming to guidebooks. Its graphic design, much of it by Chermayeff & Geismar, is legendary, building upon the work of Eliot Noyes.
So it was with great surprise that we heard that Mobil Travel Guides will now be Forbes Travel Guides. Smart move for Forbes, which gets a great franchise. But it’s a big loss for Mobil. Big time.
Mobil Travel Guides will be re-branded as Forbes Travel Guides effective October 1. (Mobil’s four and five-star designations for hotels and restaurants will become Forbes in 2010.)
Frankly, I don’t understand why Exxon Mobil ditched the guidebook brand, which associates driving on the road with positive things like good food and clean hotel rooms. It has been around since 1958, and people trust it. They apparently spun it off into a separate unit a few years ago, and were getting free publicity from it.
Why was it important that Mobil do the guide? It’s not the reason they think, namely that people driving on the road will like to use Mobil and think “Hey, I need to check into a Ritz-Carlton.”
No it’s more subtle than that.
The association was valuable because it kept the name Mobil in front of rich, fancy folk who go to five star hotels and good restaurants. And remember, it is “fancy” people who buy and recommend stock purchases for others. It is “fancy” people who decide on environmental regulations. It is the “fancy” public television watching bureaucrats that make the government regulations.
We can only assume the rationale for the sale. Someone branding guru comes in and says “WHAT ARE WE DOING MESSING AROUND WITH THIS. Why are we worried about toilet cleanliness. We’re an energy company.”
Yes, you are an energy company. But you are a great brand too, and Mobil one of the best brands. But brands that are one dimensional become boring. BORING. If it’s all about gas, it’s out of gas. (And by the way, gas companies SHOULD worry about toilet cleanliness, if they want to run filling stations.)
If this means that Exxon is further diminishing the Mobil brand at the expense of Exxon, that is a mistake. Both brands are great, but they mean different things.
One more great business tradition, lost. Forbes will do a fine job with it, yes, but something cool has been lost.