New Shell Campaign Focuses on the Fuel

Shell Oil continues to focus on the quality of its gasoline in a new round of work from J. Walter Thompson that suggests a fill-up at Shell will lead to better mileage.

The $25 million television, print, radio, direct, outdoor, public relations and point-of-purchase effort from the Houston agency takes a simple approach to explain product benefits.

A TV spot that broke today opens with three cars identical except for color. Two pull over on a twisting coastal road, apparently out of gas, while the bright yellow vehicle, which has a discreet Shell logo on it, continues to a seaside port.

A voiceover says, “One of these cars is filled with new Shell gasoline. A gasoline specially formulated to give you better mileage. In fact, we have tests to prove it. So, if you took these three cars on an identical journey, new Shell gasoline would help one of them go farther.”

The spot is a continuation of Houston-based Shell’s “Waves of Change” campaign, which broke last year. That effort, the client’s first fuel push in a decade, peddled Shell’s gas as an engine-cleaning agent that enhances performance.

Shell manager of brand and strategy for the retail division Brooks Herring said better mileage is one of the top attributes consumers seek in gasoline. Shell says the new gas reduces friction between moving parts in an engine, making it run more efficiently.

In the 10 years before the “Waves of change” effort was launched, Shell pitched convenience and extras such as free air and water. The refocus on fuel was made because “people were getting more price-conscious, and they were looking for a good value,” said Karen Wildman, manager of national advertising and brands at Shell. “Getting consumers to focus on our quality fuel was one way we could compete.”

The focus on gasoline performance is more prevalent now than during the 1990s, when the industry spent more effort advertising good citizenship because of environmental concerns, said Dan Gilligan, president of the Petroleum Marketers Association of America.

“Companies took notice that brand loyalty was beginning to diminish,” he said.

In addition, grocery stores such as Kroger and retailers like Wal-Mart started selling gas. The major oil companies “recognized a lot of the mega retailers were getting to attack their brand as being less meaningful,” Gilligan said.

JWT general manager Michael McDonald said consumers pay attention to the fuel they put in their cars,and don’t necessarily turn in to the most convenient station.

“There is a bit of urban legend that says gas is gas,” he said. “I think consumers would tell you there is a difference between a well-known brand [and others].”

The challenge for JWT: To keep a consistent, simple message, because fuel technology can be extremely complicated, McDonald said. “Once you get into that tier-one brand, you’ve got clear signals from consumers about what they want from a gas,” he said. “So we’ve proceeded with a value proposition that answers directly what is important to the consumer.”

Shell, an affiliate of Royal Dutch/ Shell Group of Cos., is the world’s second-largest oil company in terms of revenue, trailing ExxonMobil. The company spent $45 million in media last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.