When the oil and gas company Shell announced late last week that it would be rebranding as "She'll"—as in "she will"—this weekend, to mark International Women’s Day, people thought it was a joke. Even in the history of corporate genuflections toward social justice causes (who can forget when a McDonald's flipped its M upside-down in a "celebration of women everywhere"?), this stunt stood out for its cynicism and laziness. It was so on the nose that the infamous prankster group the Yes Men claimed it was a project of theirs.
There was only one way to figure out if this thing was actually real: to drive out to the only gas station that was doing the rebrand IRL, in San Dimas, California. So that's what I did.
San Dimas is in the San Gabriel Valley in eastern Los Angeles County. It's one of those strikingly beautiful places in Southern California, cradled by green hills and almost perpetually sunny, that human beings have decided to fill with chain restaurants, big box stores, and gas stations.
The Shell—I'm sorry, the She'll—is very similar to the other gas stations nearby. It does not stand out from the road, since the main sign is unchanged and doesn't indicate whether it's a Shell or a She'll. The rebrand is only noticeable at the pumps, which are adorned with the extra ' and feature the slogan "#MakeTheFuture gender balanced" along with portraits of women who appear to be from this ad campaign:
This is all meant to highlight She'll's efforts to improve the representation of women throughout its workforce and on its board. But critics online were pretty skeptical of what seemed like a laughable attempt at reputation-washing. Was the public supposed to applaud a company that covered up links between its own activity and climate change after learning of the connection in the 80s, and which has been accused by Amnesty International of abetting human rights abuses in Nigeria for decades? Especially since all we're talking about is a single apostrophe?
No She'll corporate leadership was on hand Sunday morning in San Dimas, but I asked Shannon—who has been working at the She'll for five years and was behind the counter—what she thought of the rebrand. Her reaction was positive. "We're the future now, with the women being the top CEOs and all that stuff," she said. "We gotta be equal, we want to be noticeable to other companies."
It was a relief to confirm that the She'll was real and not some collective hallucination of Twitter users. It was also nice to know that at least one She'll employee seemed to be happy with it, since it's unlikely anyone else will really figure out what's going on.
Outside the door I spoke with a man named Larry who says he comes to the She'll every day to use the ATM. "They're doing some promotional stuff here I know," he said, pointing to a sign advertising that drivers got 30 cents per gallon off gas with the purchase of a car wash. "They're really pushing that." I told him that actually I was talking about the apostrophe and the transformation from Shell to She'll that had the internet buzzing.
"I really didn't notice that," he said. "It's Shell from what I can see."
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