Wednesday, July 28, 2010

There's gulf oil...and then there's Gulf Oil.

Confused? Welcome to the club. I was Googling up some 4-1-1 about the ongoing lubrication of the Gulf of Mexico the other day and found this picture:

I'm sure you've heard the seemingly endless "oil-leak" stories coming out of the white noise machine in your living room. (A hundred days now, but who's counting?) And you know that that fiasco was the work of a company called BP and not of one called Gulf Oil. But in another day and time it could have been! M says that when he was a little jug-eared kid, the Gulf Oil Corporation was one of the "Seven Sisters"--the seven biggest Anglo-American oil producing companies. There were Gulf service stations all over the place. They still exist in the Northeast, as part of Cumberland Farms convenience stores. But that's just a marketing deal. The trademark was sold separately when Gulf's exploration and drilling and refining operations were merged long ago into Standard Oil of California, which is now Chevron--and which was another of the Seven Sisters. (Ha! And they say dogs are incestuous!)

My point is: If the rig that blew up and started the leak had belonged to the eponymous Gulf Oil Corporation, wouldn't that have been a fine howdy-do? Do you think the company's damage control might have begun with shortening its name to GO? Is a bear Catholic? Does the Pope--wait, cancel that. But just imagine the added stigma of having millions of people see all that sludge come ashore day after day and know that it's not just any old oil from the Gulf, but genuine Gulf Oil!

Wow! That gives me an idea: The company that owns the Gulf Oil trademark should consider bottling the spilled oil, slapping their label on it, and selling it in souvenir shops. Maybe they could find a way to turn it into suntan lotion. (Don't scoff--people buy the artwork of incarcerated serial killers.)

M says I make a good point--about the name shortening, not the suntan oil--because oil companies have been known to look for reasons to change their names, usually for the sake of improving public perception. And getting the word "oil" or "petroleum" out of the title has often been a useful thing to do. (Cigarette companies went through a similar cleansing with the word "tobacco" back in the 1960s. Just try to find it in one of their corporate names today.)

However, in the case of BP, he says, that ship has already sailed. (Let's hope it's a giant oil skimmer!) For many years BP was British Petroleum, which was known first as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and--you guessed it--another of the Seven Sisters. But as the power of the British Empire faded and carbon fuels came to be viewed as a mixed blessing, the company saw wisdom in booting both of the keywords from its moniker. Those who never knew of its previous name could go through life thinking BP meant Beyond Petroleum (which is probably what the suits had in mind), or perhaps Brilliant People. Of course, nowadays folks are more apt to think BP stands for Big Profits, or Beyond Pathetic, or Bumbling Proctologist.

I asked M if BP has a logo and he said yes, they've had a couple over the years. The first one looked like an Interstate highway sign--and not coincidentally a knight's shield, which is often seen as a symbol of strength, power, and nobility. But later they switched to a sunflower, which appears very eco-friendly and less menacing. Interestingly both of the company symbols make much use of the color green--apparently the only thing "green" about that den of thieves.

It didn't take us long to find examples of both of these logos online. Here's the old in-your-face, "Kneel and kiss my shield" one:

And here's the newer, friendlier image:

It's a bit hard to see the sunflower with all that shadowy business going on in front of it. Or maybe that's part of the design. I'm a dog. What do I know?

Last month an organization called Greenpeace had a contest inviting people to submit designs for a new and improved BP logo, in honor of the oil giant's fine work on behalf of the environment. Here's a submission that I think says a lot, not just about their good deeds in the Gulf of Mexico, but up at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and elsewhere:

To see some of the other entries, follow this link.

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