Monday 10 June 2013

A downward spiral for ERG

With 75 years of retail heritage, ERG's latest roadside identity punches well below its weight. Some observers may even speculate whether its new management has made a gross error of judgement in this regards - but first let's consider the context for the rebranding.

ERG branding

ERG panther logoDuring the 70s and 80s. ERG (Edoardo Garron Refineries) was represented with three angled panthers - a spritely symbol with an aggressive dark blue anchor colour. The old ERG logo looks very dated now but is characterful nonetheless. Sadly, none of the former charm and quirkiness was retained.

Step forward to the early 90s, the dawn of a new phase for ERG with environmental pressure both from Europe and the Italian Government to produce lighter, cleaner fuel products.

Under the backdrop of strategic partnerships and corporate restructuring emerges a new ERG – a multi-energy player operating in the electricity, natural gas and renewable energy market. Its new multi-energy positioning necessitated a branding solution that reflected ERG’s environmental vision for the year 2000 and beyond. It might not look so out of place as a brand of washing powder though...

ERG's three concentric rings take on a dual meaning, emphasizing the initials of the refinery's founder and also summatively representing the company's core business interests with the unit of energy symbol 'erg' at the centre. The identity has narrative strength and in this respect it succeeds. However, the symbol is too ethereal and benign for a roadside retail identity.

It is logical that ERG would want to play upon its trump card - its environmental offer - but there are surely better ways to to create a multi-tiered and characterful logo.

Encoding environmental friendliness

Performance of ERG branding across forecourt

Take a look at the application of the logo on the high-riser sign above the canopy and also on its main identification sign.

Branding of ERG forecourt
Whether it is intentional or not to apply the logotype differently across the two signs, the apparent inconsistency and control of the logotype's visual elements only serves to diminish the overall power of the roadside brand.

The stepped architecture with nationalistic colours may have been introduced for one of two possible reasons, either red and green were the last two colours left in the palette (ERG's main competitors have taken blue and yellow) or else it was simply pragmatic to adopt them. We doubt the nationalist card was being played in this instance, from our experience it is typically found to be of little worth.

ERG logotype comparison with Total and Elf
Off the forecourt, it is equally evident that ERG's logotype lacks 'punch' - just look at how ERG's logo stacks up alongside Total and Elf brands on the corporate website page that introduces the 2012/3 range of lubricants. (The logotype translates much better however across its mobile telecoms business, ERG Mobile, particularly on a reversed white on green background.)


ERG was clearly unable to hold its own in a market dominated by Eni and Api. A confluence of factors in 2010 including a market downturn in Italy may have also contributed to the strategic decision for a joint venture undertaking between Total and ERG Petroli Italy and the creation of TotalERG. The new branding has greater impact as a roadside entity but has negligible character.

The re-imaging of ERG's network appears to have been poorly executed in the transition to TotalERG.

The re-applied ERG logo on mounted signage (bottom left image, above) takes on a split personality during a phased rollout which can only leave consumers bemused and perplexed.

The decision to display both Total and ERG logos comes across as a face saving exercise, a cosy boardroom solution, rather than something which is meaningful to their customer base. Such a strategy could work if there was sufficient conviction in the new combined brand but more frequently this is not the case.

At some juncture we speculate that there was a u-turn on the decision as evidenced by the new multi-colour symbol in the totem image (above right). The newly adopted logotype solution looks heavily compromised and hastily formulated like a soup with all the incongruous elements of the two symbols blended together. (Also notice how the totem design is not helped by the choice of panel colour which quickly attracts dirt and makes it look already old.)

With the French giant muscling its way into the marriage, will ERG's tri-colour forecourt branding solution help build footfall or will it do the reverse and make Italians more skeptical?

It is not the first time the petroleum giant devours a troubled brand. Remember the fate of Petrofina in Belgium in 1999? Total took control of the brand and re-imaged the network as Total Fina and then in acquiring Elf, renamed the network as Total Fina Elf. However the menage a trois couldn't last, leaving the weaker parties to suffer a terminal fate.

Whilst the alliance between Total and ERG brings TotalERG's market share to 12% and puts it in 3rd place behind Eni (Agip) and API (APl-IP), we question whether TotalERG can sustain its position and build long-term credibility.

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