For 70 years, the green and yellow shield of BP (British Petroleum) was one of the most instantly recognisable brand marks in the world.
The origins of the BP logo go back to 1920, when a staff competition to design a trademark was won by A. R. Saunders, an employee of the purchasing department. The winning design featured the initials ‘B’ and ‘P’ with wings on their edges, or hooked-serifs. In 1930, a heraldic shield was introduced to envelop this monogram.
Precisely how the famous colour palette of green and yellow came about is something of a mystery – but, according to BP, the colours inside the shield could be almost anything (red, blue, black, green, yellow, white) in the first decade.
The BP Shield survived three major reincarnations (1947, 1958 and 1989) and throughout retained an authoritative presence that was steeped in history. Perhaps the most celebrated version of the logo was devised by the prolific designer Raymond Loewy in 1958. He eliminated unnecessary elements, strengthened the letterforms, and revitalised the colour scheme – as he saw the original as rather “drab and uninviting”. One last makeover occurred in 1989 when Siegel+Gale updated the shield and italicised the initials for added dynamism.
In 1999, BP and Amoco completed a $53 billion merger, to form BP Amoco. The new board decided that, rather than integrating under an existing image, they needed a new one to signal the birth of a global power brand, and herald BP’s embrace of change. In the process, the venerable shield was unceremoniously discarded.
On July 25th 2000, BP unveiled a new emblem: the ‘Helios’, named after the sun god of ancient Greece. The sunflower symbol, with its interlocking planes and colours, is designed to show the company’s commitment to the environment and solar power. Devised by Landor Associates, the mark evokes “natural forms and energy that represent, respectively, BP’s position as an environmental leader as well as their goal of moving beyond the petroleum sector”. To reinforce this strategy, the initials BP were given a new explanation as ‘Beyond Petroleum’.
At the time, much of the designworld and British press united in criticising the Helios symbol. In fact, since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, there seems to be a misalignment between brand promise and brand reality that could take BP many years to recover.