Since Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company acquired Texaco, a lot of changes are taking place. All over town the Texaco star is coming down and being replaced by Shell’s pecten (giant scallop) logo. The great pattern and color scheme of Texaco stations are assuming the yellow and red color of Shell. Shell is, of course, a great company with excellent products and an outstanding reputation. But I still miss Texaco.
The Texaco star and its many slogans, such as “Star power for car power,” have been around all of my life. As a small child, I remember the plastic firemen’s hats they gave out when their slogan related to “fire chiefs.” The symbolism of Texaco has always conveyed a sense of quality and power. Shell’s pecten, on the other hand, reflects the roots of the company when they were in the business of importing seashells for collectors. Symbolism is important, but I believe it should speak to the mission of the enterprise in addition to being widely known and recognized. Symbolism can convey in a subliminal way what your company and products stand for.
But the Texaco star is not the only thing that I miss. There are great symbols in our own business that no longer appear. Perhaps chief among them is the Met’s “light that never failed.” Growing up in the early part of my childhood in Manhattan, I remember the light well. Our whole family was insured by the Met, and the symbolism of a light that never failed was a great comfort in the depression years of the 1930s. On hot summer nights our family would often go up to the roof of our apartment building in search of a cool breeze. Invariably, as we walked out on the roof one of us would turn towards the Met home office and remark, “Yep, the light is still shining.” It was a family ritual, but it had deep meaning.
I also miss State Farm’s “good neighbor” portrayal of their agents. Those ads may still be around, but I have not seen one lately. I always thought the “good neighbor” was a great metaphor for the work of so many of the people who sell and service insurance of all kinds. When tragedy strikes, everyone cherishes a good neighbor, and it represents the essence of a caring community. Great symbolism for a caring business.
The Prudential has been steadfast in its use of the “Rock of Gibraltar” as a symbol of great strength. Strength is an important message for an insurance company to project, but the people who sell and service Pru’s products are also part of that caring community. Perhaps a companion symbol to the “Rock” could convey the soft side of the company – the only side that touches the consumer.
I love the commercials featuring Geico’s gecko and Aflac’s duck, and I am a long time fan of Peanuts cartoons, particularly Snoopy. They are great entertainment, and while I enjoy them, I often wonder what it is that they symbolize. Ours is a serious business and a bit of humor now and then doesn’t hurt, unless it distracts from the more important message of what we do.
Advertising people counter that the primary purpose of advertising is to create name or product recognition. Making a company’s logo universally recognized or even famous is often deemed to be the only goal. But my understanding of the world LOGO is that it is derived from the Greek world for truth. It is supposed to identify you in terms of what you are and what you do. However, like Shell’s pecten, many well-known logos and symbols have little or no bearing on the company’s mission or make up.
I suppose that is why I am such a great fan of LIFE. Its program does not fool around, but rather goes straight to the heart of our mission and its value to society. Many years ago, a market researcher, after studying our business, said to me that the life insurance business is “precarious.” Precarious in this instance is a marketing research term that means the need for the product is not clearly defined. He stated that their research showed that while most people acknowledged that life insurance was a necessity, they could not adequately articulate why. Perhaps as life insurance has merged into overall financial services, its role may have become disabled and LIFE’s real life stories dramatize, better than anything else, relieving of the financial burden created by these events.
As I write this we are in the middle of “Life Insurance Awareness Month” (LIAM). The news is dominated by the anniversaries of our 2 greatest destructive events – Hurricane Katrina and 9-11. What more appropriate time to call attention to the great service of our business.
Yes, I miss Texaco – but I also miss the great symbols of our business that projected our unique role in society.