Cultivated Loyalty

Whenever I need to pump gas into my car, I’d head to the nearest Shell station. And for the longest time, I didn’t have a reason why I chose that petrol station. Not that anybody asked. I didn’t know how to justify my loyalty to the brand.

I was like a soccer fan who couldn’t tell you why I supported a specific team. Even when any excuse would have sufficed because you didn’t know anything or care about the sport, you were just being polite trying to make conversation.

Just say you watch them because they have the hottest guys, or they can always pull crazy comebacks. Or they wear your favorite color. Or shoes. Anything! It doesn’t matter!

Why did I choose Shell? After all, fuel from all major brands is meant to be interchangeable without damaging your vehicle. There’s no particular reason to use one brand over another other than for convenience’s sake.

And so, the other day, on one of my introspective drives home, the answer came to me. My obsession with Shell started a long time ago. Back when I was a kid tasked with pumping petrol for my mom, while she waited in the car.

She would hand me the cash or credit card to pass to the attendant or cashier, I’d grab the pump (after making sure it wasn’t diesel), slot it into the fuel tank, and pull the trigger. If there was no lock, I’d hold it until I felt the pump stop.

I enjoyed the smell of petrol and it felt like such a grown-up thing to do. I enjoyed the chore. My mom got to relax in the car. It was a win-win situation.

Back then, we didn’t have any gas station loyalty. It was whichever happened to be on the way to our destination, we played no favorites. One day, that changed.

I don’t recall the exact point in time but it was at least 1998 because that was when BonusLink launched. My mom got herself a card and because Shell was the only petrol station they partnered with, she made sure that she would only get gas from there. She wanted to collect as many points as possible.

In addition to giving the cash or credit card to the staff, I also had to hand over a BonusLink card.

The only time when we didn’t pump Shell was when our fuel tank was reaching empty and had no other choice. Even then, we wouldn’t pump the car to full. We’d only get enough gas for the current trip and head back to Shell to top off the remainder. We had to maximize our points!

Not that it was a bad thing, mind you. If I owned a reward card for a particular gas station, I would have done the same thing.

For years I helped my mom pay for gas at Shell stations until I was old enough to drive. Then I was given a BonusLink card (which was under my mother’s account) to buy Shell fuel for my own car as well.

I don’t remember when we stopped using BonusLink but it didn’t matter. All those years of pumping gas at Shell stations had done a number on my brain. Until this day, I haven’t stopped filling my car at the McDonald’s-themed gas stop (it’s red and yellow too).

I have no incentive to fill my car at Shell. My family hasn’t used BonusLink for years. I still do it anyway.

Hearing anecdotes over the years about how Shell fuel is more efficient than other brands also reinforced the belief, in my already biased brain, that I’ve been making the right choice. I tell myself and other people that I’m not picky about where I pump gas, it doesn’t matter to me. But somehow, I always find a Shell to pull up into.

When I know there’s a Shell up ahead, my brain tells me to push the car a little further to get fuel from there instead of Petron, Caltex or Petronas. Or god forbid, BHP. I can’t even rationalize why their stations look so unappealing to me. Something about the orange and yellow, even though I normally like those colors.

Thank you, BonusLink. One day, I’ll break the cycle.

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