January 08, 2007

Brand Name Homogeneity

The latest incident in the Québec language wars is an outcry against Imperial Oil's plan to change the name of the convenience stores at its 54 Esso gas stations from Marché Express to On the Run. Their stated goal is to have all of their convenience stores go by the same name "in North America". Francophones are objecting to this as yet another bit of erosion of the use of French.

The funny thing here is that the gas stations themselves do not go by the same name. Imperial Oil is the Canadian subsidiary of ExxonMobil, whose gas stations in the United States use the brands Exxon and Mobil. ExxonMobil has both Exxon stations and Mobil stations because it is the result of a 1999 merger between Exxon and Mobil. Prior to the merger, Exxon had adopted the name Exxon in order to unify the several brands it was using, in part due to previous mergers, but also because it was prohibited from using the Esso brand in some states due to the 1911 Standard Oil antitrust agreement.

Marketing is something that makes absolutely no sense to me so perhaps this is obvious to people who understand such things. While I doubt that changing the names of these convenience stores will have a significant impact on the French language, at the same time I am hard put to imagine why Imperial Oil thinks that whether they use the same name or different names for their convenience stores will make a difference to their bottom line. After all, the convenience stores are part of the gas stations, and the gas stations within Canada all have prominent Esso signs.

Posted by Bill Poser at January 8, 2007 04:40 PM