Having a Ball
Bloggers launch campaign to save 76 insignia
By KATE BERRY
Los Angeles Business Journal Staff
The ball is back in ConocoPhillips’ court.
Two Los Angeles bloggers with a fondness for vintage California signs have launched a Web campaign to save the rotating orange and blue Union 76 balls that were for decades that oil company’s identifying symbol.
The orange globes, often referred to as “meatballs,” have turned into Southern California pop culture icons largely because of their longevity – they’ve been around for 59 years.
Since ConocoPhillips bounced the balls from its ad campaign last year, they have started disappearing from West Coast highways and corner gas stations. At their peak in the 1960s, the 76 balls could be found on as many as 4,000 Union 76 gas stations from Seattle to San Diego. By some counts, the number of balls has dwindled to less than 300.
When Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak realized that their local gas station had carted off its giant 76 ball, they created a Web site – savethe76ball.com – featuring a tongue-in-cheek petition asking consumers to urge the Texas oil giant to stop dropping the ball.
On the site, the bloggers claim ConocoPhillips is guilty of “design terrorism” for throwing out the “goodwill” associated with the 76 balls. Visitors can sign the petition and print a card urging remaining gas station owners to keep their balls.
A spokeswoman for ConocoPhillips refused to comment.
After Cooper launched the Web site last month, she was contacted by Ray Pedersen, who redesigned the orange logo in 1955 for Union Oil. Pedersen, who is well known in the advertising industry, also designed Yoplait’s distinctive yogurt containers.
He conceived the orange ball as a futuristic globe that was to adorn a Union Oil ride at the Seattle World’s Fair. With that as the inspiration, he designed a “Spirit of 76” ad campaign.
In 1967, when the company had become Unocal Corp., it launched a wildly popular promotion in which millions of small plastic balls were distributed at its gas stations to be attached to cars’ radio antennae. Today, a classic 76 antenna ball can be purchased on eBay for roughly $1.50.
“The 76 balls are very urban and visually stunning,” said Cooper, who with Marsak writes for 1947project.blogspot, a day-by-day account of Los Angeles crime history from the era of the Black Dahlia. Marsak is author of “Los Angeles Neon,” and has developed an interest in vintage signs.
“Gasoline is one of the hardest things to create a brand for because it’s all identical,” said Cooper. “Yet here is one of the most visible images in the market and they’re just throwing the balls away.”
When the needle points empty on this old car of mine
It drives itself over to the Seventy-Six sign.
So when we read that the old orange ball’s time is through
Well, my old car and I did not know what to do!
How could they replace our lov’d balls with flat red and blue pucks?
And with such scorn for our history? Why, the very thought sucks.
How could this monster from Texas cause such dismay in LA?
Oh-me-oh, Oh-my-oh, what would Vin Scully say?
But then something went bump.
It bumped from LA to Texas--where it made oil folks jump.
Kim Cooper got the ball rolling, with one little petition.
“Restore our dear spheres,” it said, or else face our sedition.
And then one signed, then two, then more came to declare:
Not the Lord, but the Board, you can petition with flare!
And so that’s how it started, from just one person’s druthers.
Saving the orange and blue ball, for all fellow ball lovers.
Although the odds were against us, and our small bag of tricks.
We have yet to strike with the spirit--the Spirit of Seventy-Six!
Let the corporate world beware, they know not what they had.
Don’t mess with our history, and don’t make Kim Cooper mad!
--Sky from Lotta Living
A couple of days ago, I was interviewed on Dori Monson's KIRO Seattle radio show about the Save The 76 Ball petition campaign. Hundreds of Dori's listeners have rallied to sign the petition, including Dori himself (thanks!). But the most extraordinary thing to come from this interview was an email I received from Ray Pedersen, a man with a very personal relationship to the 76 Ball. Well, let's let him tell you about it himself:
Kim: It's a small world. A friend of mine and fellow alumni of The Art Center School of Pasadena told me you were on a program the other day and sent me this info on you. I am the guy who was creative director in 1955 on the Union Oil account for Young and Rubican Advertising in L.A. I designed the ball for the Seattle World Fair (their SkyRide) and it was so stunning that Fred Hartley wanted it done for all Union Oil Stations. He called it "Pedersen's Balls." It was much fun. I had a small one made so it would just fit in my Beechcraft Bonanza and we went all over the country shooting beautiful scenes and put the ball up on a pole and what do you know?.... a gas station in front of the magnificent Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, San Francisco Bay Bridge, etc.
Here is a snap of me getting the ball ready at the Grand Canyon location.
Save my ball! (have a housefull plus a basketball with the logo)
Stay tuned for more from Ray, who is still creatively active at 80, and off to Iceland to brand glacial water for Icelandia PLC!