kim's blog

Another big quarter for ConocoPhillips

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ConocoPhillips, the Texas corporation that is destroying the historic Union 76 Ball for no good reason, just posted another record-breaking quarter's earnings. Maybe they are embarrassed about how much money they are making: if you or I had made THREE BILLION DOLLARS and change, would we describe it as THREE THOUSAND MILLION DOLLARS, as in the press release quoted below? 

With gas prices so high, this consumer sees no reason to fill up where the 76 Ball has been so rudely ripped down. Local independent retailers often have better prices, and they have no history of disrespecting a beloved California icon. Poor ConocoPhillips... all that money, but it can't buy good taste or good sense. 

HOUSTON, April 26, 2006 -?? ConocoPhillips [NYSE:COP] today reported first-quarter net income of $3,291 million, or $2.34 per share, compared to $2,912 million, or $2.05 per share, for the same quarter in 2005. Total revenues were $47.9 billion, versus $38.9 billion a year ago. During the quarter, the company reinvested 141 percent of its net income into the development of oil and gas resources and its global refining business, excluding the acquisition of Burlington Resources.

The Hermon Ball Comes Down

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Reporter Darleene Powells, who filed a swell piece on our 1947project Crime Bus tour earlier this year, was witness to this sad scene as she drove to the Y this morning:

Yes, that is the wonderful spinning ball at Monterey and Avenue 60 in the tiny NE Los Angeles township of Hermon, the same ball featured on the KTLA Morning News' feature on the Save the 76 Ball campaign.

Darleene notes: I'd read about this a couple of times on Franklin Avenue (here, here and here) and later noted to myself, a little smugly, that the 76 station near my house still featured its meatball. I have to admit I was hoping that this 76 station, tucked into an area of Los Angeles doesn't feel like Los Angeles, would escape notice, but alas. There goes the ball, sitting sadly on its 6.

It's ironic, as we enter the Easter season, to see this icon of modern design pulled down from its pole... perhaps not such a huge leap to the image of the dead Christ taken down from the cross? Like Christ, we hope our beloved 76 Balls will be resurrected, as ConocoPhillips crunches the numbers and sees that since consumers do have a choice, many of them are no longer shopping where the 76 Ball doesn't fly.

Save the 76 Ball! It's not too late! 

76 Balls featured in L.A. CityBeat's design issue

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The Old Ball Game (link)

Last autumn, ConocoPhillips began to pluck the famous orange balls from their posts at Union 76 and Unocal gas stations and replace them with flat, rectangular signs that aren’t even orange. This sent loyal customers and commercial-design mavens into a fury. To fight back, local writer Kim Cooper launched in January. Ray Pedersen, the ball’s designer, soon took notice, and the two joined forces to launch the campaign “Save Ray’s Balls.”

The ball was born at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, when Pedersen was approached to create a marker for 76 at a unique skyride installation. “But hanging a sign on it,” said Pedersen, “would be tantamount to ruining something architecturally beautiful.” Instead, he ran a pole up the center of the base and hung a sign on that. As it spun, Pedersen recalls, “It looked like hell. It was a lollipop. I said, ‘We need a ball … and I’d like to light the damn thing from inside. Everybody looked at me like I was crazy.”

Nevertheless, Pedersen started building the ball. But he was nearly fired for racking up almost $50,000 in expenses. When he saw his boss standing beneath the prototype, waving his arms and pointing at it, Pedersen thought he was “in deep doo-doo.” Much to his surprise, he says, his boss emphatically shouted “Goddammit, we’re gonna put one of these up at every station!”

“They were a beacon,” continues Pedersen. “You could see them all over the place.”

The 76 ball at Dodger Stadium was removed during recent off-season renovations, when fans wouldn’t be present. “It’s like, let’s get rid of this one quick, because when the season starts, people have a chance to notice,” Cooper says. “I was really hoping we could rally to save it.”

What becomes of the fallen balls? Last month, several were discovered in Fresno. Behind a chain-link fence lay at least a half-dozen orange spheres, one facing out as though from a detention camp of other lost souls of signage, damned to a death of rust and cobwebs.

Returning the balls to their rightful posts is possible, but not imminent. Almost 1,500 people have signed the online petition, threatening to buy their gasoline elsewhere if their stations take down the ball.

When ConocoPhillips bought Union 76, it intentionally didn’t purchase the rights to the ball. “It was going to be a little extra to buy, and they just said, ‘We don’t need them,’” asserts Cooper. Those rights now belong to Chevron.

“Once the Conoco people do this, they’re gonna destroy the personality of 76,” says Pedersen. “But that’s their nickel, right? They’re not gonna change.”

–Ryder Palmere (CityBeat)

Los Angeles Magazine Article

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Thanks to the good folks at Los Angeles Magazine (April issue, not yet online) for the swell piece on the campaign to Save the 76 Ball.

We are tickled to see our Ray's balls next to the Bettie Page feature, and further tickled by the ConocoPhillips spokesperson's amusing claims that they had heard nothing about any campaign to Save the 76 Ball--really? so the calls from the BBC, LA Business Journal, Brandweek, KTLA, KABC and Daily Telegraph didn't go through?--and that anyway, they had heard many more complements than complaints about the new signs.

Nice work, PR flack! That's what the boss men want to hear! the stockholders, on the other hand, might be interested in knowing that as of today, 1493 people have signed the petition supporting the retention of the balls, most pledging not to purchase gas from your stations unless an orange sphere flies high above!

Take special note of signatory Charles Vaughan (#1440), who proclaims "$300 in personal gasoline expense a month and well over $1000 for my company is now being spent at Exxon." Ouch! That's a pretty expensive side effect from a failed re-branding attempt!

So c'mon, let's Save Ray's Balls! It's not too late!

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