Orange 76 Ball Must Roll: Corporate Conformity Claims Another Victim By DAN BECKMANN
(Link to feature with photo slideshow)
"Out at the corner of my street is a 76 station. It was about six months ago, and I remember seeing the ball missing," said Kim Cooper, who co-founded a Web page, www.savethe76ball.com, to rally support for the Union 76 icons. "I was disoriented, and then I decided I wasn’t going to look there anymore."
Cooper’s grass roots movement is pressing its hardest to put the brakes on what is, in its view, the unceremonious removal of the iconic, rotating 76 globes in favor of flat, stationary, red 76 signs similar to those found demarcating most gas stations around the country.
As of this writing, 2,703 signatures have been logged on an online petition, most of the signers claiming they’ll never patronize Union 76 again. Seeing as these signs dot all of Hollywood, it was only a matter of time before someone famous got vocal.
"As someone who moved out to California in the ’80s, Madsen has seen a lot of these landmarks disappear," said Cooper. "He was worried that his children were going to grow up in a generic world."
With such an outpouring of passion over a ball that spins in front of a gas station, no one really seems to understand why this sign change is happening, but that doesn’t stop the speculation.
Dave Dettore, a managing director at the Brand Institute, a company that’s worked with ConocoPhillips on other branding concepts, said that without being on the inside, it’s impossible to guess what may be behind its decision.
ConocoPhillips released the following written statement as its official comment to ABC News: "ConocoPhillips is implementing a nationwide transition of its 76, Phillips 66 and Conoco branded stations to a common image. The intent of this transition is to leverage the strengths of each brand while also offering consistency in appearance across our brands. Thus, the formerly orange 76 logo is now red."
"How can you take the most visible sign in the entire world?" Cooper asked. "That orange and blue that looks so good in the orange red sky. To then just get rid of that and come up with a sign that some design student would get an ‘F’ for."
"At the time, Union Oil was just using a flat lollipop," recalled Pedersen. "I just resisted that lollipop. It would be hard to evolve, and it just didn’t have three-dimensional visibility. You could only see it from one or two directions."
"Boy, when they found out I spent all that money, I thought I was out of a job," said Pedersen. "But when [Union Oil] saw it the first time, they said, ‘Damn it! This is fantastic. We’re going to put these up at every gas station we ever own!’"
"The orange and blue was very clean," said Pedersen. "Union Oil of California always prided themselves about having the cleanest restrooms and gas stations."
"There’s only so many shapes out there and 76 owns the sphere. It’d be really difficult in my mind to say, ‘Let’s go look for something else,’" said Scott Jeffrey, the chief creative officer at the Design Forum, whose job is to create branding ideas. "I think, in this case, it will backfire. That 76 ball is interruptive. It’s everything that you ask a sign to be."
Despite what some Californians may want to believe, they’re not alone in their nostalgia for corporate petrol logos.
"BP is slowly but surely replacing the [Amoco logo] torch and ovals across the country," said a Stevenson’s station clerk. "This one is unique in its size, but I think, in time, this one is going to change. It’s just not going to stay Amoco forever."
This week Federated Stores erased the name of the legendary Marshall Field’s of Chicago — among other regional titles — and replaced it with Macy’s, also to create a greater national brand identity, not to mention how many bank logos have come and gone.
While it doesn’t appear at the moment that there’s going to be a last-minute pardon for the orange 76 sign, collectors trying to preserve what’s left of the ball for future generations aren’t finding any luck either.
Madsen reportedly begged to get one and was denied. Even the ball’s own father, Pedersen, doesn’t have a copy, although he says he really doesn’t have the space for it.
"In one case, they actually dropped one and it shattered," said Cooper. "They laid it on a flatbed. It crumbled on its own weight. Its hollow inside. You don’t have to destroy them as you take them away."
And when the last ball has dropped, there will still always be the unanswered mystery of why the number 76. None of our experts were able to give a certified answer to that question.
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