Man vs Machine… did Texaco fulfil its promise?

In our latest instalment of the Back to the Future Brand Review, Scott Snashfold discusses Texaco, and whether fully automated service stations are all they're cracked up to be.

It’s a wet and windy Wednesday morning reminding me that winter is on its way and I’m tentatively squeezing the petrol pump at my local Texaco trying to hit £20 bang on.

19.91

19.92

19.93

19.97

Heart skips a beat, that was close, must be careful.

19.98

19.99

Almost there…

20.01

Dammit

This is not what Back to the Future II predicted, weather included. I won’t even get into the fact my car can’t fly…


"You can trust your car to the system with the star."

This is the brand promise that sounds out as Marty McFly stands in the shadow of 2015’s Texaco whilst watching the fully automated and seamless service take place above him. It’s a shift from the purpose Texaco was talking about at the time - "You can trust your car to the man who wears the star.” But in 2015 is that relevant anymore? Not having to leave the comfort of your own car? Sounds great right?

Or does it.


Going back to my Wednesday morning and I’ve now decided to go for £25. I’ve learnt from my mistakes and I’m successful, all that’s left to do is to pay and I’m now presented with choice. I can either walk to the kiosk and pay a human, or I can conveniently pay a machine directly at the pump. You can see BTTF2’s 2015 is starting to creep into the real 2015.

I’m in a rush, I’m commuting after all, so surely the paying the machine is my best option. But, I elect to pay the cheerful lady at the kiosk. Why is that?

For BTTF2, Texaco wisely decided to retain their iconic red star, something they still do today, but they did decide to imagine what their wordmark would look like in the future. Unwisely they decided to go down the stereotypical futuristic approach to typography – squat and almost rectangular character forms coupled with aggressive and cuts and slices, and capital letters, everywhere.

It may have felt futuristic then, but at best it feels like a pastiche and dated. At it’s worst it evokes the feeling of authoritarianism. There is a reason why fictional evil corporations from films like Alien, Robocop and Terminator all employ this look.


In reality, brands of the real 2015 are looking to appear as approachable and friendly as possible. Even have a personality, much like a human. And harnessing technology can help with this too.

A fully automated service where I can fill up and pay all without stepping out of my car may be convenient experience, but is is enjoyable?

Airbnb is an example of a brand that relies on technology, but only to deliver the brand experience they promise. Using their app is a genuinely joyful experience, partly because it works so well, but mainly because it connects you to people and everything that comes with being human. I’d take that over an automated and anonymous hotel booking system with a seemingly unjust booking fee any day.

Don’t believe me? I assure you being called ‘Darling’, ‘Sweetheart’ and even ‘Babe’ all in the space of 10 seconds by the cheerful lady at Texaco’s kiosk is much better than ‘Transaction complete. Remove card.’

You can read more about Back to the Future Day and whether the featured brands were successful in predicting their future in our Creative Director, Natasha Chance's article over at The Drum.