MELISSA BLOCK, host:
About 10,000 BP gas stations crisscross the country. Nearly all are privately owned and operated. Since the oil spill, there have been protests and vandalism at some stations. Others have seen their business decline. So one idea that's drawn interest among owners is changing the name of BP stations back to a familiar old brand.
NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.
KATHY LOHR: BP and Amoco merged in the late 1990s. Not long after, BP changed the name and logo on thousands of U.S. stations from the familiar red, white and blue torch to BP's green, white and yellow flower. Now, after more than three months of constant reports about the spill and its effect on the Gulf, some have suggested rebranding the local stations back to the Amoco name.
At a BP on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Atlanta, Martha Johnson(ph) says she loves BP stations, so to her, it doesn't really matter what they're called.
Ms. MARTHA JOHNSON: Go for it. I'll still be here pumping my gas either way, BP or Amoco.
(Soundbite of laughter)
LOHR: Another customer, Ketan Solanki(ph), who often stops at BP to fill up, says he doesn't think the company should rebrand the stations.
Mr. KETAN SOLANKI: Keep it the same name. People do mistakes. People get second chances. They've owned up to their mistakes, and they're cleaning their mistakes up.
LOHR: Independent stations are going out of their way to tell customers they are not owned by BP. There are signs, both on the convenience store and at the pumps, spelling it out. And BP says it's spending $60 million to help stations: offering cash incentives, reducing credit card fees and paying for a media campaign that includes ads like this one.
(Soundbite of a BP ad)
Unidentified Man: Have you ever met the owner of a BP station? Chances are you have. Most BP stations are locally owned and operated. So that guy that gave you directions, he might be the owner...
LOHR: Still, many stations across the country have seen their business drop off.
Mr. TOM BOWER (President, Clipper Petroleum): We've seen about eight to 12 percent decline. That's probably a pretty good range for us in this area.
LOHR: Tom Bower is president of Clipper Petroleum in Georgia. He operates 34 BP stations in the state and supplies 160. His stations bore the Amoco name for decades. He says it's too early to say whether making any changes now would help.
Mr. BOWER: We love that Amoco brand. But it's been gone for, what, 10, 12 years now. I'd have to study a little bit more on it to decide whether that'd be a good thing to do. You know, when you've been gone for a while people tend to forget.
LOHR: There is precedent for changing a company's name. In 1996, a ValuJet plane crashed in the Florida Everglades. The company was reborn as AirTran, now a successful regional airline. There's also precedent for companies keeping their names and working to rebuild their image. Take Tylenol, after its capsules were poisoned in the 1980s, and more recently, Toyota.
Mr. RAY BAIRD (President, RiechesBaird): Just switching a name for the sake of switching a name is, you know, is not a good idea with - you know, consumers can really kind of see through that.
LOHR: Ray Baird is with RiechesBaird, a specialist in corporate branding. He says BP may want to research using a new sub-brand like Amoco. But Baird says given the right communication and corporate response, the BP name can recover - eventually.
Mr. BAIRD: I don't think it's going to be forgotten by the individuals, you know, today that are being affected by it. But the generations behind that, you know, as they grow in, how will they understand, you know, what BP does? I think that is significant to the longevity of that overall brand.
LOHR: Other marketing experts say it's way too soon to think about dropping the BP brand. They say price, the location of stations and the kind of service they deliver are the keys to where consumers buy gas, regardless of the name or logo on the station.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.
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