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As pressures mount on governments and businesses to be more green, in 2020, marketing oil can be a hard day's work. Jet's managing director of marketing talks to The Drum about its ongoing refresh, the challenges of selling fuel and the brand's low carbon future.

Oil is all around, in parachutes, shampoo, telephones, and even antihistamines. It makes the world go round, so what is it about oil brands that make 1,500 protestors descend on the British Museum to kick off about BP’s sponsorship?

While the environmental concerns are glaringly obvious, any attempt by oil companies to step into the green space often provokes hypocrisy claims. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t, the challenges of marketing a product most of us depend on isn’t an easy ride.

Jet is in the middle of an ongoing brand refresh after it started reclaiming its petrol stations from franchisees in October 2018. Having already bought back a number of its 300 stations, Jet has plans to buy more with a five-year plan to own between 50-100. 

Part of Phillips 66, which owns the Humber Refinery, the years of franchising have now left it trying to standardise its brand. “When we reentered company-owned space in October 2018, we started pursuing our own sites," says Mary Wolf, managing director of marketing at Phillips 66. "That helped us reclaim some control of what the brand should look like."

Wolf explains that when Jet joined Philips 66 in May 2012, the fuel brand started looking at itself differently, and the timing felt right for it to redefine what it wanted to be. 

“At the time we were 100% dealer-owned, which meant that the petrol stations that flew the Jet brand back in 2015 were all owned by independent operators," Wolf continues. "We had an agreement that they could fly the jet brand and provided images, but we didn’t own the petrol station. That meant of the 300 sites across the UK, there were 300 different interpretations of Jet which was confusing for consumers."

After conducting market research into brand perception, the feedback was that the 65-year-old Jet felt both ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘boring.’ Still ongoing, the rebrand has involved a relaunch of its website early 2020, an updated logo, more modern forecourt image, bright LED lighting and a rethinking of Jet’s Premium Fuel offer.

Last month, Jet unveiled its first TV ad in 20 years, to present the revived brand into the public realm. Created by the ad agency Isobel, the spot is a unique take on a classic road movie theme, where a man with a grand piano 'drives' through the English countryside playing the 80s hit 'Steppin' Out' before stopping in to 'refuel' at a Jet petrol station. The brief was to stress that the fuel brand is all about convenience.


Another interesting finding from the market research was that people were keen for Jet to be purposeful. In the past few years, the climate debate has been pushed up in the public agenda, with brands and agencies alike devising their own green initiatives. A growing discomfort regarding the impact of oil on the environment has meant oil giants like Shell and BP have been vocal on the various ways they are giving back for the damage caused. Earlier this year BP ploughed $1bn into five startups tackling climate change amid increasing pressure to cut back its emissions and the irreparable damage caused by drilling.

“We've certainly been hearing more and more, and it's definitely important to us. There's definitely a consumer voice on the environment and greener fuels," Wolf says.

Recognising the climate challenge, Philips 66 has been making investments to help its customers reduce their emissions. One recently announced project uses renewable hydrogen to produce fuels at its Humber Refinery, the first to make renewable fuel from waste oil. 

"In the last year, we've changed our ads in the trade press from just talking about fuels to talking about some of the things that we’re doing to specifically highlight the various initiatives," Wolf says, but notes that it is yet to communicate this to customers. 

2020 has been a tumultuous year for oil, with prices dipping below zero for the first time meaning producers were focused to dispose of the excess. Suggesting oil has had its heyday, recent reports show industry leaders like BP and Shell have been accelerating their move into electric and renewable energies. 

Similarly, Wolf explains that Jet is looking at the ‘filling station of the future’ and figuring out the different ways the brand can modify petrol to make them less carbon-intensive.

"Part of being a petrol filling station business is you’re part of a mobility value chain. As fuel evolves there still will be a mobility value chain, and we need to be able to cater to the driver, whatever the vehicle with whichever fuel the vehicle uses. It's about understanding those intersection points. Understanding how we can improve the carbon intensity of the fuels that we make." 

That won't be easy, as Wolf accepts. "We appreciate and certainly understand the challenges and I think if we go back to our company vision, it's providing energy and improving lives. The position we've taken, especially here locally in the UK, is we are taking action to be a part of the low carbon future. I don't pretend we have any silver bullet, but I think what we've tried to do always is be very true to our values.

"There is a lot of negative press about 'nasty oil.' But then there is that sense of that freedom that comes with being able to get into your car and drive a little bit. And that can be a joyful experience too."