Box Vox

packaging as content

January 25, 2013

Who designed the Valvoline logo?

That’s what I’d like to know. Who came up with the idea for the “V” symbol made from two overlapping transparent parallelograms, one red and one blue, making a dark triangle where they intersect? Whose design is that?

Iconic and instantly familiar to racing fans, the logo has been adjusted over the years, not always for the best, in my opinion. Early 1960s packages show a somewhat taller Valvoline symbol, in which the overlap is a black isosceles triangle. Later the angles of the symbol were changed to making the “V” wider with a dark blue equilateral triangle at the intersection.

Around 1987 the typography was switched from all caps (with curved baseline and curved capline converging in the middle) to a italicized upper and lower case. This was probably meant to imply speed, but the concurrent switch to upper and lowercase made the logotype less emphatic. Steering the brand down a slippery slope toward a similar-sounding (upper and lower case) Vaseline.

(On the transparency: note how the trademark drawing above right uses parallel intersecting lines to represent the overlapping colors—just as Steven Doyle did with his black and white version of The Cooper Union logo.)

In 1982, Ashland Oil’s patent attorney testified before congress about product counterfeiting of Valvoline motor oil:

Good morning.

I am Vernon Venne, senior patent attorney for Ashland Oil, Inc., and trademark counsel for its division, Valvoline Oil Co.

… Product counterfeiting is of great concern to Valvoline, especially in this international trade. It is this concern that has brought Valvoline to become a member of the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition and to come here today to testify in support of S. 2428.

Valvoline’s experience with product counterfeiters is, I believe, in some respects, a little different than some other cases which will be reported here today.

First, the product that is usually counterfeited, a 1-quart can of motor oil, is not especially expensive. As I am sure you are aware, the value of a product cannot always be gauged by its purchase price. Here the product is intended to protect one of the consumer’s most expensive investments, their motor vehicle.

Second, the Valvoline trademark is not a status symbol in the way that sometimes trademarks for apparel or for jewelry or luggage can be. A consumer will not buy a Valvoline brand product in order that others will recognize their good taste. Rather, the consumer will buy a Valvoline product because he knows that he can rely on the high standard of quality associated with that product and it is this standard of quality which is a very fragile asset upon which the counterfeiter preys.

Trademark Counterfeiting Act of 1982:
Hearing Before the Committee on the Judiciary,
United States Senate, Ninety-seventh Congress, Second Session, on S. 2428
September 15, 1982

There may, however, be one demographic for whom the Valvoline logo is an emblem of good taste: aficionados of vintage graphic design. Two recent products which cater to this group may or may not be officially licensed, but none-the-less use the classic Valvoline trademark:

On left:  Jonathon Kimbrell’s Warhol-style Valvoline print ($45 on Etsy); on right: Eric Stevens Valvoline T-shirt in a can for Borders Perrin Norrander

Black and white photos from a 1966 trademark filing show the range of packaging to which the Valvoline logo was applied

Below, a 1997 commercial uses the V symbol as a metaphor for blending two types of oil.

(The current Valvoline logo, after the fold…)


The current logo does the “Web 2.0” thing of adding bevels, blends, highlights and drop shadows. I suppose that chrome trim makes a certain sense for the automotive market, but really: gilding the lily much?

Another take on oil and transparency…

This commercial features Valvoline’s logo changes over the years:

Note: the vintage Valvoline motor oil can in the color photo at the top right of this post is for sale on eBay for $22.

(See also: Propo Packaging)