The current focus of gasoline company advertisements in the U.S. seems to be on cleanliness. Advertisements are trying to fix the bad reputation that industry damaging oil spills have created. This is evidenced by both the manifest and latent content present in many gasoline print ads.
Gasoline ads in the United States follow a pattern of content, including color schemes, that connote purity, cleanliness, and nature. Whether or not blues and greens are colors of the company logo, gasoline companies have included these as primary colors in their advertisements. Many gas advertisements include these colors in the background picture; often the colors are manifested as a clear blue sky or lush, green nature scene.
Offsetting the nature present in the content is the human element. Many of the advertisements include photos of people (anything from tight close-ups to full body shots). These seem like an attempt to humanize both the consumers and producers of the product. It seems that these companies are aware that their intended audience is savvy, up to date, and aware of environmental issues. Chevron, for example, released a series of advertisements identified as “We Agree” ads. These ads offer light criticism of the oil industry in large sans serif type then note that Chevron agrees with the criticism (Fig. 1). While this is a bold concept, it has been poorly received as evidenced by the Photoshop parodies by John McIntosh (Fig. 2).
The general layout of most of the advertisements offer lots of white space (the “We Agree” ads are busier than most). In the ads, white space helps focus on either a natural element (the polar bear in fig. 1), a human element, or a driving-related element (a car tire or a road). It is worth noting, though, that the white space in these ads in never truly white space, but often water or sky, which helps viewers re-focus on the nature aspect of the ad. Of course, these advertisements are not without some design errors. In fact, a WordPress blog called In the crowds, has a post criticizing a Shell gasoline advertisement. The author of the post points out unnecessary words that slipped by copywriters, poor Photoshop techniques, and irrelevant choice of background. Other gasoline ads include other obvious errors such as choosing a blue font to lay over a blue sky, and putting the Gestalt ideas of proximity and similarity at odds with each other as seen in a BP ad.