Photo by Michael Locke

Photo by Michael Locke

A beacon in the night

Legendary architect Gin Wong died earlier this month. One of his landmark creations is the Beverly Hills Union 76 gas station, pictured above.

This got us thinking more generally about Union 76. Gasoline is the ultimate commodity – each brand claims to have its own additives but gas is pretty much gas. So how do you stand out in a space like that?

Union 76 does so with a piece of iconic visual branding – its orange 76 ball.

It was originally created in the early 1960s to draw attention to a Union 76 sponsored ride at the World’s Fair.  By the end of that decade there were 7-foot orange balls looming over 18,000 gas stations in 37 states.

About 10 years ago the brand’s owner, Phillips 66 Company (then known as ConocoPhillips) began replacing the balls with more traditional signage, but after a public outcry they backtracked, installed new and slightly more red-colored balls in high-traffic areas in California, and donated several of the old balls to various museums.

Of course, any brand could have done something like this, but Union 76 did it first and really made an imprint in the minds of consumers.