Monday, November 21, 2016

Not so pumped about BP’s new interactive gas pump

I’m old enough to remember when you went to a gas station, you wan over a hose-like thing, a bell went off, ikeand someone came out and pumped your gas for you. When I was a kid, this person was likely the snappily dressed station owner who looked like General Eisenhower. Or the milk man. Ours looked like General Eisenhower, minus the fruit salad. Seriously. This is what Texaco gas station attendants dressed like in the 1950’s. Ten-hup!

Time went by, and by the time I was getting a buck’s worth of gas pumped into Black Beauty, our low-riding GalGoober Pyleaxy 500, gas station attendants weren’t quite so snappily dressed. Gomer Pyle’s cousin Goober was more the norm, minus that odd-ball little cap.

But someone was doing the pumping for you. They also checked the oil with their dipstick, and showed you pretty much every time that you were down a quart. And they cleaned your windshield for you. Or at least smeared the grime around with a dirty rag.

And as with the postal service:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

And then the fabulous pump your own gas was introduced.

At first I resisted. I’m not very mechanically inclined, and I figured it was just one more thing to screw up. But just as I willed myself into learning to drive a shift by calling up the example of all the morons who knew how to use a clutch, I figured if all kinds of morons could pump their own gas, I could, too. So I did.

But even after I got comfortable, I continued to occasionally patronize “attendant on duty” stations, mostly in support of old ladies like my mother who did NOT want to pump their own gas.

These days, it’s a shock to have someone come out to pump for you.

But that’s okay.

Pumping your own gas – especially in a state that requires you to stand there holding the handle down – gives you a bit of time out, a thin slice of your day where there is nothing else to do except breathe the gasoline fumes, keep your hand on the trigger, and stare out into space.

Enter BP, with something that’s going to violate that space: Miles – get it -  a talkative, high-how’s-it-goin’  interactive gas pump.

Thanks to my Chicago-land cousin Ellen, I learned about Miles through a very funny column in the Trib by Rex Huppke. (Check out the column and the video embedded therein. Well worth the side-trip.) Rex is not a big fan:

First, there was the Earth.

It was a decent place, with trees and lakes and oceans and small furry mammals that specialized in not bothering anyone. Then along came humans. And it was bad.

As these humans evolved, they worked relentlessly at making the world less pleasant. And then, at a moment when most people would describe the planet as “a largely annoying place to be,” certain humans looked around and said, “Hmmm. What can we do to make it all just a bit worse?”

The answer, apparently, was to design a gas pump with an unnecessarily peppy personality and name it Miles…

He looks much like any other pump but has a touch screen jutting out on one side and a display screen on top, with a large sign above that that says, “HI, I'M MILES. I'LL PUMP, YOU PLAY!”

I’m not sure if Miles actually does the pumping, but he (it?) plays music, and trivia, and lets you connect with family and friends. He (it?) will even take a picture of you to include in your message. Plus he (it?) says punchy things like, “Ah, finally you’re here. I’ve been waiting for your all day.”

Bet he (it?) says that to all the pretty gas pumpers.

BP is, apparently, not aiming Miles at the geezer demographic. It’s all about the millennials. (And here I thought that they were all giving up personal ownership of a gasoline sipping internal combustion engine in favor of app-ing up an Uber.)

Maybe in the wake of things such things as the Deep Horizon spill and the furor over the Dakota access pipeline, BP wants to make itself more appealing to millennials, or maybe it knew a good marketing move when it saw one.

Donna Sanker, the chief marketing officer for BP Fuels North America said: “We spend a lot of time learning about our consumers and what they like. We learned that most people don’t really enjoy pumping gas. This is an opportunity to build a deeper relationship with them.” (Source:, and another amusing column, this one by Lincoln Brown.)

“Deeper relationship”? I had the same reaction as Lincoln Brown:

“Who wants to develop a personal relationship with a gas pump?”

Personal relationships – even if it’s the sort of relationship you used to develop with a Dwight Eisenhower look-alike filling your tank every week – are built over time. And, as Brown points out, pumping gas:

….is not a time-consuming process, after all, unless one is filling up an RV or an Abrams tank. And most millennials wouldn’t be comfortable behind the wheel of either of those.

As BP contributions to the world go, Miles is, it goes without saying, better than Deepwater Horizon. Still…

Couldn’t they be doing something a bit more valuable with their time and money than introduce a new way to invade our space, put ear worms in our brain, and spread fake cheer.

I’m all for personal relationships. Some of my best friends, etc. Just not with a gas pump.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Knew you'd have a good take on this. A friend and I were just talking to other day about our early resistance to pumping our own gas. I hope I never meet Miles.