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Paddy Briggs leadership of ‘the world’s largest re-imaging programme’


By John Donovan

As regular visitors are aware, former Royal Dutch Shell executive, Paddy Briggs, is a welcome contributing author of insightful articles on this website.

Paddy is a modest fellow so it was interesting to stumble across a reference to him and his leadership at Shell of ‘the world’s largest re-imaging programme’ on pages 378/379 of the book: “A CENTURY IN OIL”

The relevant extract is printed below. A photograph of another of our Shell heroes, there are not many, appears on page 378: Sir John Jennings.


The “Shell” Transport and Trading Company 1897 – 1997

The Changing Shape of Shell: 1993-1997

Last undertaken in 1971, the 1990s redesign of the pecten actually involved far more than the pecten alone. Within Shell the process was called Retail Visual Identity, or RVI, and it entailed a complete overhaul of the total design of Shell’s service stations. The professional press described it as ‘the world’s largest re-imaging programme’ – with justice, for outside the US, which would retain its own pattern, the new look was to be applied to all Shell’s 38,000 service stations world-wide in a ten-year programme, at a cost of £500 million. Obviously it could not be undertaken lightly, and when applied, it had to be right.

Beginning in 1989, the new RVI was four years in the planning, under a team led by Paddy Briggs, a marketing specialist of 25 years’ standing with Shell. Market research in seventeen countries established that motorists perceived Shell petrol stations as places staffed by friendly, caring, trustworthy professionals, and that Shell red and yellow were popular colours; but it also established that Shell as a whole was beginning to be seen as old-fashioned and rather undynamic. Moreover, the 1970s design had lacked detailed guidelines: individual operating companies had only artists’ impressions of architecture and signage to go on, and stations in neighbouring countries could look confusingly different, with no common elements apart from red, yellow and the pecten, which was often scattered randomly around the site. The new appearance was intended to change all those negative elements while maintaining and enhancing the positive, in an evolutionary rather than revolutionary manner; and like all really good design, the result – formally launched in the UK in May 1994 – looked as though it must have been quite simple to determine and achieve. But the fact that its achievement took four busy years indicates how much hard work and careful thought was required.

There were ten main elements in the new RVI, all working together to produce a harmonious, attractive and welcoming setting in which customers felt relaxed and safe – ‘not the greasy garage,’ as someone said, ‘but the fully fitted kitchen.’ Of the ten elements, the single most noticeable was that the pecten, hitherto always two-dimensional, became three-dimensional. Otherwise the numerous alterations were so subtle that their total effect was almost subliminal, and people only really recognized the differences when photographs of sites old and new were placed side by side; but if that was done, it became obvious that in contrast, the older design just did seem old-fashioned. How effectively RVI would achieve its main aim (the preservation of Shell’s position as the world’s leading petrol retailer) in the longer term remained to be seen, but it looked like a winner at once. An encouraging level of success was apparent as soon as it was launched: the new look not only earned a European Sign Design Society award, which was gratifying, but also something much more valuable – the warm approval of customers. And if a 3D pecten did for Shell’s sales what 3D seismic had done for its exploration, its £500 million cost would prove a wise investment.

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