ConocoPhillips is Killing Halloween

Our small town has two tourist attractions. We have the formerly tallest totem pole in the world and a Union 76 gas station with a revolving orange ball. No one takes pictures of the totem pole.

A photo looking down a busy street filled with cars. A 76 gas station is visible in the distance with its Union 76 ball covered with an orange cover that makes it look like a jack-o-lantern. A caption arrow points to the ball, identifying it as the Great 76 Jack-o-Lantern. A second caption arrow points to a school bus with an explanatory label reading: Mrs. Crabtree's school bus giving kids a drive-by tour. However, Mrs. Crabtree is a fictional school bus driver. No school gives drive-by tours of the Great 76 Jack-o-Lantern, at least that I know of.

Earlier this month my 28-month-old daughter asked me while we were driving through town, "What’s that orange thing Papa?" Well, "That’s a jack-o-lantern, honey."

Our Union 76 station’s ball transforms into a jack-o-lantern every October with the help of an orange and black vinyl wrapper. After my Little Miss saw The Great 76 Jack-o-Lantern, she started recognizing pumpkin displays everywhere in our community and began using the word jack-o-lantern.

Now when she drives me places in her pretend car, we go to the "food store," "restaurant," "toy store," "farmers’ market" and the "76 station."

This may be the first and last year my daughter gets to see this icon from my youth. The new owner of the Union 76 chain, ConocoPhillips, is busy rebranding these stations—tearing down functioning 76 Balls and replacing them with stale red rectangular plastic signs.

Photo of a Union 76 gas station ball covered with a jack-o-lantern cover. A school bus is passing by on the street behind the gas station. The photo caption reads: Mrs. Crabtree's school bus swung back around for a second glimpse of the Great 76 Jack-o-Lantern. The kids giggle with excitement during their annual field trip to see the orange orb that brings our town so much joy throughout the year.

From an environmental standpoint, it’s horrible for ConocoPhillips to needlessly replace working signage. If energy consumption is the issue (oh, I so doubt that) then just deactivate the turning mechanism.

From a cultural standpoint, ConocoPhillips sucks twice as much for destroying historical landmarks, destroying a piece of Americana.

From an economic standpoint, ConocoPhillips is exercising unmitigated stupidity. They should be installing a new 76 Ball at every station. They should be offering station owners a range of "costumes" to transform their glowing orbs into Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, a Valentine heart and a host of other characters and symbols and custom regional images. They should be adding mini-food markets and be rebranding themselves as family-friendly.

Imagine that! You’re driving with your family and need to fill up. Your kids let you know loud and clear which gas station they want you to visit—the one with the giant revolving Thanksgiving turkey head. So you pick up some deli sandwiches, hot dogs or pizza at Union 76 while you’re gassing up. Ronald McDonald would wet his pants.

Instead, the brains at ConocoPhillips decided that rebranding means making themselves look indistinguishable from their boring competitors. They call it  "consistency in appearance across our brands."

(Burger King did the same idiotic move a few years ago, replacing its awesome boxy hamburger logo lit signs with a swirly hipster-doofus attempt at being trendy. Remember when the Burger King mascot was a real guy, not a fiberglass bust stuck on a mime’s body? Sure, the new king is funny as a vaguely gay semi-spooky character, but the King has been turned into nothing more than a gimmick that will be exhausted within 18 months. As long as Ronald McDonald remains a living, breathing mascot standing behind the classic golden arches, McDonalds will remain number one.)

When ConocoPhillips takes away our 76 Ball, I’ll take my business elsewhere. Gas is gas. The 76 Ball is the company’s only mark of distinction in the public mind.

I invite you to visit the north coast of California before our treasures are gone. See the ancient redwoods before the last ones are cut. Dip your toes into the ocean before it’s completely polluted. And witness our swirling 76 Ball before it’s trucked off to a landfill by a corporation that cares more about homogeneity than being interesting.

For more information, see:

Side-by-side satellite photos. One is labeled Halloween 2006 with the 76 Ball clearly visible as an orange dot. The second image is labeled Halloween 2007 with two question marks. No orange dot is visible in the future satellite image. The overall caption reads: Thank you ConocoPhillips for ruining Halloween! Satellite image via Google Maps. Click this image to visit the corresponding page at the Google Maps web site.

P.S. I was joking about Mrs. Crabtree and my rabid enthusiasm. The bus in the photo was just a lucky happenstance, twice. But my core concern remains about crapitalization of public imagery by clueless corporations. What I said about my daughter is true. Union 76 taught her the meaning of a jack-o-lantern. The 76 Ball rocks.


One Response to “ConocoPhillips is Killing Halloween”

  1. Nicki M says:

    I enjoy your stories and enthusiasm. I do think you are wrong about our redwoods though. I work in the park system and we are aquiring more property all the time to help protect. Hopefully when our kids are grown they will be expanding instead of decreasing. That is if global warming stays off long enough. It is way scarier than the logging.

    November 3rd, 2007 at 2:10 pm

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