Colonial Pipeline’s branding is a disaster. That should’ve been a warn

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By James I. Bowie 3 minute Learn

This month’s cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline’s operations made many Individuals conscious of their dependence on a firm they’d by no means heard of. And never solely was Colonial Pipeline’s obscurity at odds with its significance, however its branding, its public face, appeared unusually archaic, as if it had been encased in amber for the reason that days of the Kennedy administration.

[Image: Colonial Pipeline]

In 1961, when 9 oil firms collectively created a new pipeline that might ship gas from Houston to New York, branding didn’t seem like excessive on their checklist of priorities. As a privately held concern with little relevance to the general public, the brand new agency merely wanted a identify that might specific a little bit of bland American gravitas, and “Colonial” did the trick, changing in 1962 the unique, extra colourful identify, “Suwannee Pipe Line Firm.”

Like “Nationwide” and “Federal,” “Colonial” was a fairly generic time period that might be utilized by American companies to mission a sure bigness, with a little bit of historicity in addition. And for the reason that pipeline would traverse states that had (largely) been among the many authentic 13 colonies, the identify match. However by the early sixties, “colonial” was already buying a whiff of datedness. In accordance with U.S. Patent and Trademark Workplace information, 0.027% of American logos via 1962 contained the phrase, in comparison with simply 0.007% of these since.


Right this moment “colonial” sounds downright geriatric, and it carries unsavory connotations stemming from new methods of assessing the course of empires; take into account that probably the most stinging epithet hurled within the 2018 movie Black Panther was “colonizer.” The Colonial Pipeline identify is additional weakened by its goofy anachronism—there have been definitely no pipelines crossing the Delaware alongside George Washington—and by an alternate interpretation that verges on the scatological (for what is a pipeline, if not a colon of types?).

Like the corporate’s identify, its 1962 emblem has remained unchanged. A traditional, clear, and intelligent midcentury trademark design, it shows the CP initials inside a cross-sectional view of a pipeline. It’s a cousin, maybe, of the previous U.S. Civil Protection insignia. As pipeline logos go, it’s proper up there with the 1951 mark for Trans Mountain Oil, a part of the primary company identification program by famend branding company Walter Landor and Associates. However since we haven’t been accustomed to seeing it for many years, as we’ve the decidedly old-fashioned-looking Normal Electrical and Coca-Cola logos, it strikes us at present as a relic of a completely different period.

[Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images]

As a result of Colonial Pipeline continued to function largely outdoors of the general public eye, it most likely felt little stress to replace its branding over time. Had it been a publicly traded or consumer-facing firm, it might need been renamed “Colpex” or “CPL” in the course of the “alphabet soup” naming craze of the ’70s. Its emblem might need been adorned with stripes within the ’80s or swooshes within the ’90s to maintain up with the high-tech design tendencies of these instances.

Colonial Pipeline seems to us at present like Austin Powers, a creature of the ’60s all of a sudden unfrozen, and greater than a bit misplaced, within the current. Its story over the previous few weeks has been stuffed with oddly dated parts, from the gasoline strains seemingly straight out of the OPEC-plagued ’70s to the Doctor Evil vibes of the ransom quantity—”FIVE MILLION DOLLARS”—reportedly paid to the hackers, themselves branded with a tacky moniker—DarkSide—that sounds prefer it may have belonged to the dangerous guys in a Roger Moore-era James Bond flick.

In the long run, the entire affair means that Colonial Pipeline, like a lot of America’s infrastructure, is outdated, fraying, and significantly weak to new threats. Evidently whereas tech unicorns cavort of their multi-billion-dollar valuations, old-school American trade is nonetheless struggling to wrap its head across the web. It wasn’t all that way back that a U.S. Senator described the web as “a series of tubes,” as if it have been, effectively, Colonial Pipeline.

Parts of branding, significantly these which are most blatant, resembling names and logos, are sometimes belittled as facades or window dressing. However a model’s look can truly be a eager indicator of the character of the agency it represents. It’s clear that over the course of the cyberattack and its aftermath, Colonial Pipeline’s timeworn model has informed us all we have to know in regards to the firm.

James I. Bowie is a sociologist at Northern Arizona College who research tendencies in emblem design and branding. He reviews on his analysis at his web site,