Rebrand takes the shell out of Shell and puts the Zed into z—UPDATED

When Shell’s fuel business was sold to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund and Kiwi infrastructure company Infratil in April last year (for a cool $695 million, we might add)—both of which are owned and operated by Greenstone Energy—the wheels were set in motion to replace the brand with something Greenstone Energy describes as “entirely Kiwi”. $35 million later, the new petrol stations, called Z Energy, are being unveiled across the country as part of a complete brand overhaul. And, coupled with extensive market research, the finished product comes courtesy of a number of industry players, including Cato Partners and Assignment Group.

The brand and logo was created by Cato Partners in Wellington, while Assignment  Group and JWT were responsible for the launch and promotion. Retail consultants  RCG and brand agency Marque have been working on the convenience store refit and brand, the first of which will be launched in early June.

But starting it all off was an exercise that  involved undertaking what Greenstone says is the largest piece of industry-specific consumer research in the last decade. Large indeed. According to Greenstone chief executive Mike Bennetts, that research involved 17,000 people, comprised of customers and competitors alike, and scanned a raft of opinions about what exactly it means to be Kiwi.

“Our customers told us loud and clear that the way we think about ourselves as Kiwis—our national identity—is changing fast. We’ve shifted away from the number 8 wire Kiwi battler stereotypes to a more confident and assured sense of our place in the world,” says Bennetts.

Now the most visible and immediate representation of that research has been unveiled by way of a complete name and logo overhaul, to be implemented in more than 200 Shell petrol stations across the country, at an estimated cost of $35 million. And it’s not unexpected. After purchasing what is a major international energy brand and putting it entirely into the ownership hands of Kiwis, a move by Greenstone to differentiate the brand from Shell was inevitable. Of course it will also save Greenstone some pretty hefty royalty fees, with the Shell brand estimated to have cost Greenstone $10 million per year in licensing fees.

And the logo is indeed different. Gone is the sea shell-backed logo which has been in existence since around 1900. The new logo features a livery comprised of an orange and yellow-hued swishy letter ‘z’, pronounced “zed”, against a blue backdrop. Of course with petrol being a finite resource, the irony of the logo apparently representing infinity isn’t lost on us either. But in the age of clean tech and biofuel, who knows what Greenstone has in mind heading forward.

“Zed’ is the first letter of the last word of the country to which our business is solely committed,” explains Bennetts.

“The Z brand will provide a visual point of difference and customers will know they’re supporting a Kiwi company. However, consumers have told us while they will support a world-class Kiwi company, being Kiwi alone is not enough. We agree. The new brand represents visually what will be a complete overhaul of our customer offer.”

That overhaul apparently includes cafe quality food and coffee, better forecourt service and supporting Kiwi suppliers where possible.

“We will also be giving back to communities in which the Z brand is based,”says Bennetts. “The main difference over time, however, will be a Kiwi attitude.”

So what do Cato Partners have to say about the finished product? According to managing director Cameron Sanders, who says Cato has been working with Infratil for 16 years, the intention with the design was always to keep it short and with just two letters, BP was the closest rival. Cato is also responsible for Australia’s Channel 7 logo, so it’s been down the single-digit logo road before.

“It needed to be bold, out there and noticed.”

Sanders say the team carried out extensive research about what the letter Z should look like and what the story behind the letter was. And some of that research, according to Ware, was undertaken as part of the focus groups conducted by Greenstone. She says the design team, along with herself, were extensively involved in the focus groups.

“We listened to people up and down the country,” says Ware. “New Zealanders embrace the letter z. It links to the country and no one else owns the letter z.”

Owns the letter Z? She has a point. According to Sanders, Cato embarked on some international  alphabet research and, as it turns out, no one owns the letter Z.  Xerox owns X, Yahoo owns Y but no one had taken ownership of Z.

As for the Z itself,  Ware says that after talking to New Zealanders up and down the country, what became pretty clear is that people are always on the move—on a “continuous journey” form A to Z, hence the infinity association. Z, she says, will be at the center of the journey and the people.

As for the colour selection, Sanders says Cato scanned the New Zealand market place for the colours associated with existent petrol brands (yellow for Pak‘n’Save, Green for BP for example), to find a unique colour palette for the new brand.

Aside from Pak’n Save, the departure of Shell from the marketplace would leave a gap in the colour palette, and Sanders says a bit of debate was had about whether the yellow should be retained.

As well as looking at the colour palette of existing petrol stations, Cato embarked on a visual audit of the mainstream commercial landscape (red for the Warehouse for example) to find a colour combination that was unique and would stand out.

The yellow was retained in some capacity, and it’s something Ware says links Z Energy back to its Shell heritage. Set against the indigo backdrop, she says the yellow also helps the logo stand out at night.

Both Ware and Sanders are aware of the feedback the logo has garnered, and they’re not entirely surprised. Ware acknowledges it generally takes time for people to get accustomed with a new brand and the values associated with it.

The departure from the universally recognised Shell logo is a bold move, one that leaves behind well over 100 years of history. Historically, the shell design has been integral to the Shell Oil Company, which has its roots in shells. In 1833, shopkeeper and trader Marcus Samuel opened a shop in London which dealt in antiques, curios and, of course, sea shells. When Samuel’s son joined the business, Samuel senior took the opportunity to embark on a bit of traveling to the Caspian Sea coast in the search of exotic shells. It was on this trip he stumbled across the opportunity to export oil to the Far East for use in lamps and cooking.  And the rest, as they say, is history. The first shell design used as part of the logo’s company was a Pecten seashell, and you can see the evolution below.

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