BP brand and logo
Before it was a brand, BP was a product range. In 1917 British cans of motor fuel that had previously been sold under the enigmatic label ‘Palm Tree Oil’ were marketed as ‘BP’, short for British Petroleum.
The company itself wouldn’t be called BP for another 40 years, but BP gasoline quickly captured motorists’ imaginations, both in Britain and across continental Europe. The letters appeared in advertisements, on the pumps and on the sides of delivery trucks.
A brief history of the BP logo, and its distinctive colours
A Mr AR Saunders from the purchasing department won an employee competition in 1920 to design the first BP mark, a boxy ‘B’ and ‘P’ with wings on their edges, set into the outline of a shield.
For a while the colours inside the shield could be almost anything: red, blue, black, green, yellow, white. But by the time executives sent a letter to subsidiaries in the 1930s asking them all to use a consistent house sign, green and yellow were the norm.
Precisely how these distinctive colours came to stand for BP is something of a mystery. At any rate, the French operation introduced the colour scheme in 1923, followed shortly thereafter by the Swiss. In Britain the first BP petrol pumps and trucks were bright red, which drew the ire of some in the countryside who said they spoiled the views. The repainted green pumps blended in better with the scenery.
The shield would serve the company for 80 years in all, with a few subtle changes along the way.
When BP merged with Amoco in 1998 the company’s name changed to BP Amoco, and the shield appeared side-by-side with Amoco’s equally familiar torch.
BP goes 'beyond petroleum'
Then in 2000 BP, now a group of companies that included Amoco, ARCO and Castrol, unveiled a new global brand with a new mark, a sunburst of green, yellow and white symbolizing dynamic energy in all its forms. It was called the Helios after the sun god of ancient Greece. In a press release announcing the change, the group said it had decided to retain the BP name because of its recognition around the world and because it stood for the new company’s aspirations: ‘better people, better products, big picture, beyond petroleum.’