Z’s dead, baby

It’s just been announced that Greenstone Energy, the company the has the Shell petrol station brand in New Zealand, will be rebranding as Z Energy, pronounced “Zed Energy”.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. While I do not currently own an automobile and have little direct need for petroleum byproducts, I do occasionally pop into servos for the purchase of such items as drinks or maybe an ice block if it’s a really hot summer’s day.

And Shell is, of course, the sponsor of Maurice Shadbolt’s travel book “The Shell Guide to New Zealand”, so even though it’s an international brand, it has a long history in New Zealand. Evidently Greenstone are just going to piss that history away because, as they told the Herald, “research showed demand for a distinctly Kiwi identity.”

Oh really? How is naming your company after the dungeon sadist from Pulp Fiction a Kiwi identity?

Greenstone CEO Mike Bennetts told the Herald, “Z is the first letter of the last word of the country to which our business is solely committed.” Oh, that’s quite clever. Hey, New Zealand is a country, and I can think of a word you can make from some of the letters in ‘country’ that also symbolises New Zealand’s national identity.

Wikipedia tells me that Shell got its name from the original owner’s family business importing seashells. There was no industry-specific consumer research behind that name. It literally described the business, then when the commodity changed from seashells to gasoline, they kept the name even though it wasn’t a literal fit.

Scoop notes that “[t]he swirly red and orange Z symbol, which does look a little bit like the number 8, is in fact a statement of New Zealand having moved beyond the number 8 fencing wire ‘battler’ to a ‘more confident and assured sense of our place in the world’.”

This rebranding is also coming at a time when margins on petrol are low and suburban petrol stations are closing down all around the country. The city is full of empty forecourts with boarded-up Shell Shops.

Petrol prices are rising and the young carefree motorist that Maurice Shadbolt was writing his book for now has a careful eye on the eftpos card, and is more reluctant to go on a road trip.

The few petrol stations left can’t rely on just selling petrol. They have to turn themselves into convenience stores and cafes. And indeed this is part of the Z rebranding.

Again from the Herald: “Greenstone has been working hard to develop new ‘cafe quality’ food and coffee in its stations. The company had not opted for sit down cafes but has ditched Australian pie suppliers and will sell pies made in Hawke’s Bay and sell cupcakes.”

So, hooray for (sort of) locally made pies, but cupcakes? Cupcakes? The time for cupcakes was in the early ’00s. Now they say the chic sweet is macarons, with the over-frosted cupcake having devolved into a signifier of nu housewifery – how to look and act like a 1950s housewife without actually having a house or being anyone’s wife. “Try them,” Z’s new website cheerfully urges. “The icing is the best!”

Cupcakes are to the ’10s what muffins were to the ’90s – a way of snacking on a sweet treat, but being able to convince yourself that it’s good for you. The muffin contains fruit so it is healthly; the cupcake is a high quality indulgence and therefore is emotionally healthy.

Wait, of course it makes sense that Z will sell cupcakes. Go on, grab a cupcake with your petrol. It will make the price of petrol seem less painful, and also make you less mournful of having to live way out in the false economy of car-centric Churton Park because it seemed like the only affordable suburb.

Eventually all the Shell livery will come down and the Zs will go up. Eventually the Shell logo will look like a ye olde remnant of the 1950s, and Z will be just another petrol station brand.

The Shell Guide to New Zealand