This is Embarrassing and I’m Blaming Marketing

I have to admit that it’s embarrassing enough to think about it, and it was really hard to talk about it, and it’s even worse writing about it and it feels like I’m telling the whole world about one of my biggest mistakes of the year.

But, there’s a marketing lesson for you, and a question I want to ask you. So, be it.

The story

It was sunday morning. I looked at the clock on the kitchen wall. It was seven am. My daughter was barely awake. She was in the shower, waiting for her breakfast. I pushed her out the door, as soon as she had finished eating. Into the cold dark morning. The wind pushed her inside the car. It was nothing like the road trip with my five year old son. I was driving her to a game of handball, and it felt like I was doing it in the middle of the night.

I heard a terrible and loud sound as soon as I turned on the engine. I tried to cover my ears, but the sound stopped as soon as my hands left the stearing wheel. Oh no, I said. We were running late, and I discovered that the cry from the car was to let me know that I had to fill up the car with gas.

I drove to a shell station, the closest to our house. My daughter was inside, still freezing, waiting for the heat to be turned on. I was standing outside, looking for my wallet, when I started reading all the various signs. One brighter than the other, and some of them huge. What fascinated me, wasn’t the bright signs or the size of the signs, but I couldn’t find regular gas, unleaded gas, or diesel anywhere. The names were different, and all I was thinking was, did they only change the names and is the content identical to before?

I was entering a different world. My daughter was inside the car, still freezing, and I was the marketing guy, filling up my car with gas. And suddenly it hit me, I was suppose to fill up the car with diesel. I stopped. I looked at the gas pump, and I wanted to start screaming… a lot louder than any scream I had ever heard.

Why I entered the world of marketing

Yes. It’s embarrassing, and it’s all my fault. I don’t blame the early sunday morning or Shell. I blame the marketing guy inside me. I just want to tell you this brief story about why I didn’t focus on what I should have been focusing on.

Let me show you two pictures I found at Flickr. Don’t think about the man and the woman. Think about the sign, and tell me, why isn’t gas just gas, and diesel just diesel anymore? Why do we need new fancy names that doesn’t mean a thing to me. What does V-Power and FuelSave even mean?

This is probably nothing new, but it’s new to me.

Is FuelSave just a marketing trick?

Is V-Power just a marketing trick?

What’s in a name?

How important is a name change like this? To me, gas will always be gas, and diesel will always be diesel, why do they have to change the names? Do you believe that we will start buying gas from Shell, because they have a cool name for the gas? It’s probably true though, because a company like Shell won’t do something like this if it doesn’t work.

I don’t drive a lot. I usually walk, and I walked 30 minutes just to be online during my summer vacation. I really enjoy walking. Now, thinking about what I just did at the gas station, it’s going to be a while until I drive my car again. I blame marketing, but it’s really my fault.

Comments

  1. Carolyn says

    Hi Jens, I’m happy to tell you that you’re very wrong. It’s not your fault. I’m not one to constantly tout the US, but in the US a diesel pump won’t fit in a car with a gas engine and vice versa. You just can’t make that mistake. When I moved to the UK, I got a diesel car and was constantly afraid that I would absent-mindedly fill it with petrol one day. That never happened but I came close a couple of times.

    It’s an honest mistake to make which is why pumps should have different nozzles for different types of fuel.

    Don’t hate the marketing, hate the regulators that allow this to happen. :-)

    • says

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. How could this happen? It shouldn’t be that difficult to make different pumps for the different cars? Why does it seem that all the brilliant stuff is only available in the US? :-)

  2. says

    Oh Jens, I’m so sorry!

    I had a guy that use to work with us and he had a diesel truck. It was stolen one day while we were all inside taking care of business. They later found it on the side of the road because the guys filled it up with regular fuel and of course, ruined the engine.

    Here in the US, all I know is the diesel is usually on a separate pump and a whole heck of a lot more expensive. You can’t mistakenly fill up with that stuff. But I can see your point about the name change. I mean really? Is that suppose to make us purchase it more often? We either need gas or not. The majority of people will continue to purchase their gas at the same place they visit most whether you change the name or not. That’s just silly.

    Hope there wasn’t too much damage done to your car. But thanks for sharing this with us. I’m sorry, I had to chuckle a little just imagining your reaction when you realized what you had done. It’s not funny but your expression probably was. :-)
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  3. Raj says

    Here, we get skeptical of any name changes (and the price increase due to them). I don’t think fancy names make much of a difference to many people, but it does make a difference to a few of them. Maybe the Gas companies are selectively targeting them with name changes?

  4. says

    We drive a lot in the F L A. Everybody loves their cars. I too believe gas is just gas and I usually just pull in to the most convenient station. I might pay some attention to price, but if they are all in the same range then I will go for convenience. If you were to ask me the last 5 places I filled up and what brand they were I could not tell you. I’m a marketer’s dream, right?

    True story; I live in a neighborhood with 20 lots and currently 16 houses. I have a perfectly fit and capable neighbor who drives her car to the mailboxes at the front entrance. Are you kidding me?

    I see you stretching yourself with your writing; I like it.

    • says

      Hey Bill,

      Looks like you’re ready for Christmas on your avatar :) I’ve always wondered how it is like to celebrate Christmas in a fairly warm place. We don’t always get snow on Christmas, but it’s always cold.

      I have many stories about cars and driving from the times I’ve been in the US, and what’s funny to me is how different our cultures are. I remember that I was shocked the first time I drove with a friend of mine to a drive through ATM (I’m not sure what it’s called, it was basically a drive through bank). This was about ten years ago, and we still don’t have them in Norway (we’re always late on adapting to the changing world, but for this, I guess we’re really late) :)

  5. says

    Dang brother…sorry about the car.

    But the marketing lessons are certainly there.

    It’s almost like we’re in the age of ‘new names’. Whatever ‘it’ is, there is a new name attached to it to make it sound way more special than it really is. I get the marketing, but it’s pretty ridiculous after a while.

    Enjoy the walks Jens ;-)

    Marcus

  6. Mary N. Garrett says

    Hi Jens,

    Nice post!! Wow! We have done the same mistake! The story is I’m going to a meeting and I’m so in a hurry. I can’t read any Gas or diesel in the pump. I just grab a pump nozzle and unfortunately you know what happens next! Is their any ways we can complain directly from the company?

  7. says

    Walking is more healthy anyway Jens. :).

    I’ve noticed that too and have thought about it before. They claim to be putting all of these fancy-shmancy additives to the gas to make it better, but is it really better? Or is it different than the next gas station?

    It’s all a play on human psychology. VPower sounds like it’s going to make your car perform a lot better than “gas.” FuelSave sounds like it’s going to save you more money than just “gas.”

    It’s come to a point where “gas” is just what you get after you eat tacos.

  8. David Moloney says

    Agree. It gets dangerous when marketers tinker with expected names as it causes confusion. And with confusion people are less likely to buy your product (gas/petrol is an exception though :) ). We have the same issue in Australia, but thankfully the fuel octane is noted below. So you can tell if the swish marketing name is referring to 98 octane, 95 or 91.

  9. olatoun-graceny says

    1 guess the fancy names is part of branding and packaging….In my country we don’t even call it gas. The general name is fuel so its either you want petrol or diesel…lol.
    Any confusing name change will lead to loss of customers…lol.
    Hope there was no damage to your fuel tank or something i don’t know much about cars and fault…That’s my hubby’s duty…lol

  10. Laur A. Bundberg says

    I haven´t drived a car a month already, I mostly use bicycle. Comfort is not free, it has it´s price :) BTW bicycle needs some repairing too…

  11. Ruth - The Freelance Writing Blog says

    I always worry that I’m going to do the same thing – I actually have no idea if the nozzles are different in Canada! But that seems like a brilliant marketing fix.

    • says

      Hi Ruth,

      I have actually never given this much thought. I always thought that it was easy to fill up the car with fuel without doing anything wrong. But I was wrong. When it’s 0730 am on Sunday, and I’m freezing, and I’m met with marketing (gone wild) I just couldn’t think :-)

  12. Submitcube says

    I’m impressed, I must say. Really rarely do I encounter a blog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. Your idea is outstanding; the issue is something that not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something relating to this.

  13. Chris Richards says

    Hi Jens,

    You have my sympathy, I have got so close to filling with the wrong fuel on too many occasions.

    I believe the problem lies with the expectations of the Executive of fuel companies. They pay their marketing guys an awful lot of money and give them huge budgets in the mistaken belief that they can make a significant difference.
    May be they can, but generally it’s the cheapest that wins with a commodity like this not the marketing.

  14. Astro Gremlin says

    Hi Jens! Most modern cars don’t need the higher-priced high octane gasoline that gas stations offer. (Higher octane prevents “knocking” in older engines due to premature ignition.) We haven’t needed it for years! But people believe it’s better because it’s called “premium.” I saw a TV program on gasoline and it all comes out the the same pipeline, rated by octane. Some companies mix in additives, such as Techroline, but does your car know the difference? I have yet to hear a mechanic say, “Your car is suffering from a severe Techroline deficiency.”

  15. Laura E. Pence says

    Jens,

    That sucks! Sorry about your car. Now when someone comes around marketing an electric car to you, you’re going to have flashbacks to this incident. Don’t tell them about it or they’ll have extra leverage. LOL

    Laura

  16. daniella says

    They pay their marketing guys an awful lot of money and give them huge budgets in the mistaken belief that they can make a significant difference.

    • says

      Hmm, it’s interesting how much money some companies use on marketing. I have no idea how much money the people in marketing earn, but that would be interesting to know. I know that people working at Universities don’t earn enough, that’s for sure :-)
      Jens recently posted…Frustrations and ExpectationsMy Profile

  17. Cliff - Carpet Cleaning San Diego says

    Great post. I realized that I might as well take up marketing as my job lol. I’ve lost a lot of money and time on bad marketing. Great content, keep it up.

  18. jessica says

    Wow! Now,I’m praying for a neutral gasoline. A gasoline that can do with diesel or gasoline engines.

    just my 5 cents.

  19. Stan says

    I must agree that why do companies use new names for their products if their customers are more comfortable to the products’ old names. Moreover, changing names could also cause confusion on their part. Its absolutely the sad truth behind that…

  20. Chris says

    Nice post! It’s always interesting seeing all the silly ways that marketers get you to buy things. I love when they just add a really big number onto the end of a product to make it sound better. Someday instead of V-Power we’ll be pumping V-Power 3000! :)

  21. Alyssa R says

    I constantly worry that I’m going to do just that – I really have no idea at all whether the nozzles are different! But that seems like some brilliant marketing to fix the issue.

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