CMO profile: Bringing the Ampol brand back

How this chief brand officer has approached resurrecting the brand 25 years after it left the Australian market, from partnerships and marketing mix to internal brand buy-in

Jenny O'Regan
Jenny O'Regan

Bringing an 80-year-old iconic Australian brand back to life after a quarter of a century is a rare honour for a marketing leader to take on. According to Jenny O’Regan, chief brand officer at Ampol Australia, her marketing training across businesses from McDonalds to Big W and IGA provided solid smarts for the once-in-a-career opportunity.

“It has been remarkably unique experience to bring a brand that was loved and cherished,” she tells CMO. “But as a marketer, as long as you start with a human truth, and are grounded in the way we know people will connect, and the differentiating insights you can pull apart how your brand comes to life versus everything else in the market, you’re on the right path. It comes back to those human truths we learnt through our research that are important and remain stable in the way we develop the brand and communications strategy.

“That’s been cemented in my training over the years. And that made it clear for me here. As long as we get back to insights, grounded in truth, and stick authentically to the story we tell and how we rebrand internally, then it paints a clear path forward.”  

O’Regan joined what was Caltex Australia in 2019 as director of marketing and communications at the start of a multi-year program to rebrand the organisation and its energy and retail offering back to Ampol.

The decision to resurrect Ampol comes 25 years after it was phased out. The Ampol story of course began much earlier in 1936, when Sir William Gaston Walkley created the Australian Motorists Petrol Company (AMP) in response to concerns about unfair petrol prices and transfer pricing by foreign oil companies. In 1995, Ampol merged with Caltex and the two became Caltex Petroleum Australia.

But in 2019, US giant, Chevron Corporation, gave Caltex Australia notice it was withdrawing from its licencing agreement, kickstarting ‘Project Pacific’ and the eventual decision to restore the Ampol brand. First revealed during an annual meeting in May 2020, two rebranded pilot stores launched in August 2020 and local-area marketing commenced.

Since then, the majority of the retail network and offerings have been rebranded, buy-in and alignment has been secured internally, values have been refreshed and the story of Ampol now and into the future has been executed externally through significant brand campaign phases including the latest iteration launched in July.

“What has been brilliant to see is how customers have connected to the brand,” O’Regan says, just over two years since lift-off. “All the research done leaning into the brand relaunch showed how customers connected to the brand and the memories they had. What we saw was this latent love in the 35-year-old+ bracket, who had emotional, engaging memories from when they were younger. The opportunity presented itself to unlock that latent love to drive connection.

“That is how it has played out in market. Our results have reinforced the fact there is this emotional connection to the brand.”  

That was the ‘good’ in the good, bad and ugly of the rebrand. A big complexity O’Regan and the team faced from the start was managing market confusion between Caltex and Ampol, especially as core offers and loyalty programs transitioned.

“We needed to manage that carefully and it was at the forefront of our minds from a B2B perspective but also with consumers,” O’Regan says. “We knew we needed to drive an education piece around the fact we are transitioning the network, while reassure customers and consumers they still get the same great service, quality, offers and benefits at an Ampol store as they did at a Caltex store.

“It was two sides of the coin – the brand was connecting, and you could see customers were going to embrace it. But there was also this confusion ahead of us and tsunami as we transitioned. It was these two elements we had to balance.”

Building rebrand momentum

Even before going to market, however, work had to be done internally to ensure alignment. For O’Regan, the key was orienting the business around a common brand purpose, ‘Powering better journeys, today and tomorrow’. While the master values remained, the changing organisation and Ampol brand lens meant the richness and execution of the values needed adjustment.

“We had to ensure the values of the brand and the business were directly connected and one and the same,” she says. “It was important for the business to understand these are inextricably intertwined: You can’t have brand values sitting separately from how your business behaves.

“So when we were first developing brand strategy, a lot of conversations we had was how we have to align on purpose and the business and brand values have to be exactly the same.”  

Fortunately, the business rallied behind it. “It wasn’t a hard conversation, but a thorough one,” O’Regan says. Further testament to rallying the business around the same goal was introducing brand metrics to the business scorecard so everyone has KPIs tied to awareness and performance scores.

“There was this understanding and sense of responsibility that we were bringing back this brand. We had to nurture it and bring it back properly, so it made the impact we needed it to make to drive successful business transition,” she says.

Milestone moments

According to O’Regan, the first big brand milestone came in August 2020 with the debut of the first two pilot stores. “This was where the rubber hit the road. We learnt lot from these pilots, and it shaped the way we went to market with the rest of the rollout from November 2020,” she explains.

O’Regan’s next big achievement was in April 2021 with the first brand campaign launch. Created by Saatchi & Saatchi and iProspect, the campaign celebrated the role Ampol service stations play in Australians’ journeys across the country, whether they be great or small. Prior to this, tactical local-area marketing had been executed in communities Ampol had started to operate in talking about the brand and transition.

“But the first time we really gave Ampol a voice was in April 2021. It was a significant moment that rallied the entire organisation and connected in a deep way to consumers,” O’Regan says.

There have been other milestone moments since, including the launch of Ampol’s sponsorship and partnership with the State of Origin, becoming naming rights partner for Red Bull Racing, and forming new partnerships with The Smith Family and Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA).

“All of that was making sure we made a difference in communities we operated in,” O’Regan says, adding this was the first criteria when choosing partners to work with. Three other main pillars are broadscale awareness, which is where the State of Origin and Red Bull racing come to life; grassroots and local community connections, such as SLSA; then charity and giving back.

“It’s important across all those dimensions that we demonstrate we can make a difference,” O’Regan continues. With the State of Origin, for example, Ampol has created a ‘little Origin’ activation tailored to local sporting communities and giving them opportunity to not only come to the game, but also attend coaching sessions and access grants of $5000.

The latest step in the brand evolution kicked off in July 2022 with new multimedia campaign, ‘Powering our way of life’. The campaign celebrates Ampol’s role at the centre of Australian journeys and the evolution of its customer offer as part of energy transitioning. The creative showcases various energy solutions Ampol offers today through its Amplify Premium Fuels range, as well as the evolution of its offer through electrification and the recent launch of its AmpCharge EV fast charging solution.

Credit: Ampol
Credit: Ampol

O’Regan describes the campaign as building out Ampol’s ‘far and wide’ proposition while continuing to connect Ampol to the fabric of Australia. The ‘Powering our way of life’ moniker also speaks to how the business is evolving to power journeys in whatever way customers need them fulfilled.

“What was exciting was taking the brand into the home for the first time, dramatising home charging of an EV,” O’Regan comments. “Up until now, Ampol has had a place out and about. This starts to demonstrate wherever your journey starts and ends, Ampol will be there to power you with whatever energy you need.”

EV charging is the first part of the story evolution, and O’Regan signals further narratives weaving into the brand story as Ampol looks to hydrogen and biofuel solutions.

Internally, Ampol has increased marketing capability across the business to service alternative energy initiatives with a new energy marketing team sitting in the broader brand and comms function. These employees are also focused on retail energy after Ampol was awarded a licence to retail home electricity in March this year.

What O’Regan is equally mindful of is bringing the narrative of sustainability and environment responsibility in an authentic way as Ampol’s product proposition evolves.

“Today, we know that means electric, hydrogen and biofuels. We have a constant lookout in market to understand how new energy sources might make their way into our product portfolio. And we are committed from inside out to reach our decarbonisation goals,” she says.

As case in point in Ampol’s retail network in WA, where almost 80 stores are completely powered by renewable energy, either from solar or wind supplies. Work is underway to take learnings from these sites to pull into the rest of the network. Ampol’s recently AmpCharge at its Alexandria, NSW site is also being powered by solar.

“It’s important EV charging isn’t the only part of the story. It’ll help us decarbonise and reach the targets we have set,” O’Regan adds.

Media and channel play

Throughout the campaign and execution work to date, no one channel, media activity or activation has been stronger than another. Instead, O’Regan points to the sum of the parts, as well as thinking about the channel mix in different ways depending on consumer cohort, as critical to success.

“For example, we knew in the 35+ bracket that there was this latent love we could unlock. Sub-35, there wasn’t a lot of awareness or understanding about Ampol brand,” she says. “The way we planned our channel mix for first launch, which has been maintained into this latest campaign, is to do traditional demographic splits that speak to different customers in a native way in their environment.

“For instance, during the first campaign, we did gaming activations to connect to younger audiences. We did a TikTok campaign, worked with influencers, as well as targeted Spotify ad placements. We were talking purposefully to different demographics by either announcing the brand for the first time and talking to them about what Ampol is and stands for, or reconnecting people with what they loved in the past.

“We are also at the stage with next campaign where it’s not only going to add to awareness of the brand, but also the products and offers. For example, the push into vehicle electric charging.”

Off the back of this, brand awareness of Ampol has more than doubled in the last two years, with the uplift significantly more prominent in the 18–34-year-old cohort. Senior consultant of Ampol agency partner Fiftyfive5, Therese Rapp, reports the results as stellar. “I have been impressed with the rapid growth in brand metrics that Ampol has seen in such a short period of time,” she tells CMO.

Brand awareness and preference are the two main metrics Ampol is using to gauge success, followed by trust and engagement as anchor points. Helping the team is an always-on brand health monitor as well. Three main data stages are also being employed across business, brand and communication to measure contribution to commercial success. From a business perspective, O’Regan is also regularly monitoring sales impact of the brand transition.

“As we transitioned the stores, we were protecting the volume and modifying if we needed to, operations or marketing at a local level to stabilise that. We could disclose at end of last year that was successful and rebranded stores were performing better than our controlled stores,” she says.

Having transitioned 880 sites at the end of 2021, Ampol reported these outperforming ‘control’ sites in key measures of total transactions, as well as volume measures including total fuel, premium petrol and AmpolCard. Ampol recognised $51.3 million of rebranding expenses (before tax) in the last financial year.

“Because we had a diligent approach to understanding on a weekly basis the performance of stores, there was a continual learning approach. We continue that mindset today,” O’Regan adds.

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