Magazine article Marketing

GREAT BRITISH BRANDS: BP - Set Up in the Middle East and Taking Its Name from the Subsidiary of a German Firm, BP Is Now Trying to Reinvent Itself

Magazine article Marketing

GREAT BRITISH BRANDS: BP - Set Up in the Middle East and Taking Its Name from the Subsidiary of a German Firm, BP Is Now Trying to Reinvent Itself

Article excerpt

BP, which now operates in 100 countries across six continents, runs 26,500 petrol stations and employs 110,000 people, is a British brand with its beginnings in the Middle East.

In 1901, the Shah of Persia granted a concession to explore for oil to a syndicate led by a wealthy Englishman, William Knox D'Arcy.

D'Arcy had trouble finding oil in commercial quantities and in 1905 had to be rescued financially by the Burmah Oil Company. But the investment was rewarded and, in 1908, D'Arcy's firm was the first to strike oil in the Middle East.

The venture, which was now 97%-owned by the Burmah Oil Company, was named the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1909.

The name British Petroleum was originally used by the marketing subsidiary of a German petroleum company. This original BP was seized as enemy property during the First World War and, in June 1917, it was taken over by APOC, which adopted the BP name for its own marketing and distribution arm.

APOC became officially known as BP in 1954, though it had been using the BP brand name on cans and road tankers since the 1920s. From the late 1960s, BP's centre of gravity shifted away from the Middle East toward the USA and the UK. Discovery of oil in Alaska (1969) and the North Sea (1970) meant that BP was well equipped to survive the Middle East oil crises of the 1970s.

BP has been image-conscious since its earliest days. The famous shield logo was first used in 1924 and in 1931 the letters 'BP' were enclosed in the shield.

By the late 1940s, influenced by its Persian origins, BP adopted the now familiar yellow and green colours. With the growth of petrol stations and the launch of commercial television, advertising exploded in the 1950s.

Animation was used early on, with product quality as the dominant message.

BP adopted more contemporary imagery to sell its products in the 1960s, often stressing macho qualities and using dynamic role models such as news photographers. A dominant line of the decade was 'BP. For the car in your life and the life in your car'.

This macho corporate image was developed throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. One epic and patriotic commercial boasted of the success of BP's North Sea oilfield, the size of its shipping fleet and the complexity of its pipelines. The new tagline was 'BP. Britain at its best'.

By the early 1990s, BP's marketing focus had gone global and embraced a wider, more family-oriented audience, with futuristic, feature-film-inspired ads, now accompanied by the line 'BP. …

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