The marketer -- with Circle K outlets selling 76 gas as well as 76 gas stations in 38 states -- is touting its designation as the official pit-stop operator of Nascar. In a TV spot from new agency Dailey & Associates, West Hollywood, Calif., a woman pulls into a 76 station and is quickly surrounded by a pit crew; pieces of the car's exterior are stripped away and replaced with race car parts. The crew then shoves the car off.
The campaign, with spending in the $14 million range, will run nationally on ESPN racing programs as well as in prime time in major markets in Arizona, California and Hawaii. Tosco is converting 250 northern California BP stations into 76 stations.
Tosco is trying to use its Nascar tie much as Nike uses Michael Jordan for its endorsements, said Cliff Einstein, chairman and creative director at Dailey. "The only athletes in the auto industry are the automobile racers," he noted.
Dailey won the account last fall from TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., the 76 agency, and Elgin/ DDB Needham, Seattle, the previous agency for BP on the West Coast. Although 76 has been Nascar's official gasoline since 1954, the marketer is only now promoting its official connection. Tosco acquired the brand from Unocal in April 1997.
Gas-station chains are trying to build customer loyalty in an industry without much brand loyalty, said Gerald Celente, director of consultancy Trends Research Institute. And the push is uphill because the marketers don't offer consumers any extra benefits, he said.
Although stations will continue to partner with fast-food and convenience-store franchises to offer convenience to customers, that trend is moderating, he said. Faster growth will occur in time-saving conveniences at the pump, such as Mobil Oil Corp.'s Speedpass, an electronic tag allowing motorists to charge their gas purchases quickly.
`IN THE CONVENIENCE BUSINESS'
"We're in the convenience business," said Bill Shrader, VP-marketing at Tosco. "Most gasoline operations are moving away from service-bay operations to some level of convenience offerings -- from small snacks to full-fledged convenience operations."
Chevron Corp. is testing a new upscale food concept outside San Francisco.
Instead of the usual convenience store fare, Chevron has developed a store called Foodini's, a Boston Market-like shop offering fresh baked breads, fresh salads, and microbrews.
That has not been advertised; Y&R Advertising, San Francisco, is the agency for Chevron.
Another Chevron test involves touch-activated computer screens for ordering groceries from inside the store; products ordered are delivered to the car.
Texaco, which has been mounting a corporate push via agency BBDO Worldwide, New York, doesn't plan any ad campaigns for its stations until it finishes a five-year push to improve their look and feel, said Charles Kosich, VP-director of advertising and sales. It's in the third year of that effort.
Last month, Mobil broke a new feel-good TV campaign for its gas stations, showing a friendly female cashier interacting with a young boy. Mobil declined comment on the campaign; the company's agency of record is DDB Needham Worldwide, New York.
Technologies such as automatic pumping and faster ways to pay with no human contact are "the wave of the future," said Mr. Celente, because time-constrained consumers don't like to deal with cash.
SMART PUMP BEING TESTED
Shell Oil Products Co. hopes by yearend to finish a test it started April 1997 in Sacramento, Calif., of its Smart Pump, a robotic arm that pumps gas while a customer sits in the vehicle.
Shell said it expects to offer Smart Pump in other markets early next year.