• Transform magazine
  • May 26, 2024

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Reenergising Bahrain: the rebranding of Bapco Energies

ICP Bapco Energies Overall 01

The discovery of oil and natural gas in Bahrain drastically altered the destiny of the Persian Gulf nation. But what does the rebranding of its state-owned energy company say about the future of the Kingdom? Jack Cousins investigates.

Nestled between the powers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the Kingdom of Bahrain has a long and colourful history on the Arabian Peninsula. Once known as the global centre for the natural pearl industry, it faced a crisis in the 1920s when that market collapsed. Fortunately, this downturn coincided with the discovery of Bahraini oil in 1932 and natural gas the following decade, and has ever since provided wealth, stability and identity to the smallest Gulf state. Come the 21st century, its Formula One race, The Bahrain Grand Prix, serves as an annual reminder of the intense economic development that has enveloped the country.

It is this contemporary push for international appeal that was to be the downfall of Nogaholding, the state-owned holding company under which there comprised a plethora of oil and gas production and distribution assets including Bapco and Banagas. An immensely important organisation to Bahrain’s economy and cultural identity, it was felt Nogaholding, as a brand, failed to convey new, modern ambitions of becoming an international energy company. On top of that, the sub-brands appeared wildly disparate and unconnected, meaning a new overarching brand identity was required under which these assets could unite towards a shared vision.

The responsibility of navigating a way around this disorganised mess was offered to Interstate Creative Partners, a London-based creative and technology agency. Given its first Middle Eastern brand design gig came 20 years prior for the Bahrain International Circuit (where the Formula One Grand Prix is held), much of Interstate’s success has been tied up with this small but ambitious country. The agency’s deep knowledge of Bahrain and its international-leaning objectives helped it fend off several rival agencies to secure the project.

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A need for change

With Bahrain’s oil reserves depleting, it would become a necessity for the company to branch out towards other energy resources. Falling in line with the country’s push for sustainability, as set out in its Economic Vision 2030, the rebrand’s primary purpose was to reflect this change. But with as many as 14 legacy companies in play, paired with a complicated underlying dynamic of utilising both fossil fuels and renewable energies going forward, this would be no easy task.

Nick Downes, founder and managing director at Interstate, considered the original Nogaholding identity “parochial” and “generic”. The lack of communication and synergy between its sub-brands meant their various identities were little more than labels and failed to convey an overarching brand narrative.

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“It feels like there's a sense of pride that the company is looking internationally substantial at last”


A good place to start the rebrand journey was by spending a day at each of the seven major operating companies (revised down from the original 14). By chatting with their respective leaders, Interstate was able to compile the feedback into a report which led to the creation of an overarching plan: to morph its identity from an internalised domestic oil and gas company into that of an international energy company.

From here, a brand strategy purpose could be devised: ‘To power the next generation’. Matteo Di Iorio, associate partner, creative at Interstate, came to realise that the company was not just seeking to sustain itself, but the entire country. From the interviews conducted with various stakeholders, the company’s efforts to affect change and create a better future for Bahrainis became obvious. Perceived by Interstate as an open, friendly and close-knit country, the strategy would have to reflect these human qualities over operational.

Interweaving energy

There would be obstacles to overcome to achieve this, however. The original brief instructed Downes and his team to rename the company after its most well-known legacy company, Bapco (Bahrain Petroleum Company). As Di Iorio explains, further research revealed almost everyone in Bahrain knows someone who has worked at Bapco. “It's so deeply rooted that it couldn't be another name,” he says. But with its obvious fossil fuel connotations, Interstate was hesitant to accept the idea without the addition of a slight twist.

“We thought it was a bit too limiting because we obviously don't want the petroleum aspect playing a big role in the rebrand,” says Downes. “We suggested the introduction of the word ‘Energies’, which would allow them to take on new forms of energy – whether that's hydrogen or solar or wind – in the future.”

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By steering Bapco Energies away from a house of brands towards a branded house, the sub-brand names crafted by Interstate now reflect a shared voice through the consistent use of ‘Bapco’. For instance, Banagas became Bapco Gas, while its aviation fuelling company, Bafco, is now called Bapco Air Fueling.

With the naming sorted, a new, intricately designed logo could be used throughout all the companies. Appearing as a hand-drawn ‘B’, its brightly hued, swirling lines (referred to as the ‘Energy Wave’) denote the company’s transition from the past to the future with its Legacy Red, Transition Purple, Progressive Blue and Future Teal colours. Additionally, the cryptic use of triangles in the ‘B’ nods to the Bahraini flag, reflecting the national significance of Bapco Energies.

Di Iorio reflects, “At the beginning we were trying to stay away from a 'B' because it’s overused throughout Bahrain. But because the client wanted to be recognised on an international stage, actually the 'B' was the right thing to do because it symbolises the country.”

A crucial aspect of the project for Interstate was to help its client – who once had such a disjointed, stagnant brand – imagine a scenario in which Bapco Energies could be recognised even if the logo was not present. One way of achieving this was through the adoption of the bespoke BeTomorrow custom typeface. Designed with both Western and Arabic languages in mind, it simultaneously aims to appear technical while also adding much-needed warmth to the brand.

"We suggested the introduction of the word ‘Energies’, which would allow them to take on new forms of energy – whether that's hydrogen or solar or wind – in the future"

 

The human touch became even more apparent in the photography, where Bapco Energies’ focus on its people came to the fore. While large in Bahrain, the company remains comparatively small to the likes of Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, meaning its employees and company culture are of particular importance. Rather than shooting at scale, Interstate’s photographic direction instead focussed on smaller details like people working together, which also prompted a chance to reflect Bapco Energies’ agility as a company as well as its commitment to gender equality. Finally, this was backed up by the use of simple illustrations that aim to express the company’s long-term vision.

The next generation and beyond

With Bapco having been in operation for over 90 years, the greatest challenge to overcome was always going to be embedding the required culture change that comes with its new, international outlook. Downes says the company partially considers the rebrand to be an ‘ice breaker’; a means of indicating the general direction of Bapco Energies, but the more major cultural developments are expected to take many years to come to fruition.

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Downes believes the brand rollout has been taken well so far, even amongst the more dyed in the wool employees whose fathers and grandfathers also once worked there. He adds, “It feels like there's a sense of pride that the company is looking internationally substantial at last.” Indeed, workshop sessions have also indicated a great deal of excitement for the new brand and strategy amongst company leaders.

Armed with national pride, a clear strategic direction and a brand capable of creating company-wide cohesion, Bapco Energies’ mission is now to “become a leader in energy on the global stage,” according to Group CEO Mark Thomas. Like the decline of the natural pearl industry in the early parts of the 20th century and the subsequent push for oil, the move towards sustainable energy sources reflects this small country’s next bold attempt to make its mark on the world.

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This article was taken from Transform magazine Q1, 2024. You can subscribe to the print edition here.