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Thursday, July 8, 2010

"The Legend is Back"

Highway billboards are popping up across the south to announce the return of Gulf Oil, with the familiar sunrise logo from fifty years ago captioned "The Legend is Back".

Despite the hyperbole of that caption, I have fond memories of Gulf. The service station of my childhood neighborhood sold Gulf products. It was owned by a schoolmate of my father, so I hung around there on occasion. Remember the brand names of the gasoline? No-Nox was premium, Good Gulf was regular, and a mysterious Gulftane eventually became the unleaded product. And who could forget Gulf's sponsorship of NBC coverage of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo flights?

Gulf Oil fell victim to the merger & acquisition boom of the 1980s and was dismembered. When we relocated here in 1986, the neighborhood service station (which I've mentioned before) was branded Gulf. Ironically, BP purchased the marketing rights to Gulf stations in this area and rebranded them. By the early 1990s there wasn't a Gulf-branded service station in the country. The brand itself came to be owned by Chevron, which let it lie fallow. Earlier this year a small company in Massachusetts purchased the brand from Chevron and has begun rebranding stations as Gulf. They aren’t related to the old Gulf Oil, Chevron, or BP.

I mention this not because of nostalgia but to illustrate a mistake of mine. When I first saw a Gulf billboard this week, I jumped to the conclusion that BP owned the brand and was trying to escape bad publicity by rebranding its stations. That turned out not to be true; the return of Gulf is merely a coincidence. After years of making fun of people who apply conspiracy theories to big oil companies, I realized that I had just done so myself.

I'll have my crow sautéed with a cream basil sauce, please.