Shell basking in afterglow of 1984 gas price event

(Watch: Shell takes hundreds of drivers back in time, offering cheap gas across Alberta. Fletcher Kent reports.)

EDMONTON – Gas prices are usually a source of despair and frustration, but on Wednesday, in various stations across Alberta, the exact opposite was true.

One gas company managed to get on the public’s good side – even if temporarily – by offering a throwback deal: 1984 gas prices.

Shell Canada offered bronze grade fuel for 039.9 cents a litre at eight stations in Alberta for one-hour periods.

The special event marked the company’s 30th anniversary of refining in Alberta.

READ MORE: Shell brings back 1984 gas prices to celebrate anniversary 

“We feel it was a massive success,” said Cameron Yost, a spokesperson for Shell Canada.
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“Our volunteer turnout was fantastic,” he said. “We managed to get a ton of folks through.”

Yost estimated a hundred customers at each station – 800 in total – were able to get in on the 039.9/litre deal.

“There were still folks lined up behind,” added Yost.

Raymond Bilodeau, a marketing instructor at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, said the campaign is a great example of guerilla marketing.

“People certainly were talking about Shell and looking for where the Shell stores are located,” added Bilodeau.

“In marketing we will sometimes refer to Selective Perception, where we tend to ignore most advertisements unless the message connects with us. On most days we might ignore and pass by many Shells without noticing them. Yesterday was different.”

“They have everyone talking about it without spending any media dollars,” echoed Angus Watt, a financial advisor with National Bank Financial. 

“They have generated goodwill which is very positive and distinguished themselves apart from the other major retail service stations,” added Watt.

Despite the negative feelings consumers usually have towards gas companies, Shell says changing their mind wasn’t the point of the 1984 event.

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“It was just a chance to get out and celebrate something … we’ve been doing for the last 30 years,” said Yost. “And meet the folks where they know us… at the gas station.”

While social media was a flurry Wednesday with reaction to the deal, not everyone’s experience was positive. Some people complained they waited in line and didn’t get to benefit from the deal.

“Some folks were a little upset we didn’t do it in their city,” admitted Yost. But he views that as a positive. “It means people are taking notice. We try and do what we can, where we can, when we can,” he added, thanking those who came out for the event.

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So, what exactly did the whole campaign cost Shell?

“For us, the focus isn’t really the cost,” said Yost. “It’s an opportunity to give back.”

READ MORE: Why gas prices are falling across Canada

Scott Hennig from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation pointed out that by selling gas at 039.9/litre, Shell would only make 018/litre since tax was 021/litre.

“It did cost them money,” said Watt, “but I’m sure today they are excited with the positive feedback they have earned.”

While Yost confirms the event was certainly a positive marketing push, he wouldn’t confirm that it was related to the recent drop in gas prices.

“A lot of factors play into that,” he offered. “It is a complex equation.”

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