Fueling Commerce : Gas Station Pumps Feature Screens Showing Commercials


Do those minutes at the gas pump lack excitement?

Worry no more--the fueling station of the future is here, said Joseph Nercesian, co-owner of the Bouquet Unocal station at the busy intersection of Bouquet Canyon and Soledad Canyon roads. Customers who fill their cars up at one of the station’s 12 pumps can watch television commercials on newly installed screens.

“This is a very revolutionary thing,” Nercesian said.

Nercesian’s station is one of three in the country with the “television pumps.” Similar pumps have been installed at two non-Unocal stations in Houston.


The full-color screens, about 5 inches wide, were installed May 14 for test marketing at Nercesian’s station as part of a computerized system allowing motorists to pay for gas with a credit card at the pump. The screen gives customers directions for using the machine until the gas pump is turned on and the commercials begin.

Advertising might not be the first choice of TV viewers at home, but most customers--cash and credit--at the station Friday morning were glued to the screens that were showing soft drink, snack and gas station commercials. Most said it was the first time they had seen the screens, and that the novelty was appealing.

“I tripped out,” said Mario Dos Santos, 19, a Saugus resident pumping gas into his pickup truck. “I thought it was pretty funny.”

Not everyone appreciated the diversion. Edward Bethune, a Canyon Country resident, said the last thing people need to be exposed to is more advertising.


“I’m not going to watch it,” he said. “I’m already inundated with commercials. I try to avoid them as much as I can. When I watch TV and they come on, I hit the mute button.”

Bethune said he would be inclined to go to another gas station if the advertisements were louder, but the volume is kept low enough so he can ignore the programming.

In addition, the screen’s liquid crystal display, similar to that of a notebook computer, is hard to see at an angle or in direct sunlight. Several customers said they didn’t even realize the commercials were being played when they first started pumping fuel.

“The first time I was doing this I didn’t even notice it,” said Eric Lasko, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy at Peter J. Pitchess Honor Rancho in Castaic. “I thought it was someone’s radio.”


Machines that allow consumers to pay for gas at the pump using an ATM or credit card are nothing new. But Unocal Corp.'s marketing department developed the television screens as a “novel twist,” allowing the company to promote services or products in a high-profile manner, said Barry Lane, a Unocal spokesman.

“What else are you going to do while you’re pumping gas?” he said. “It’s kind of a diversion. I don’t know about you, but for me the pump can never deliver the gas fast enough.”

The Saugus station was selected for test marketing because it has a high volume of customers, Lane added. He said the screens will remain until the end of June, with customer response determining whether the concept will be expanded to other stations.

Although cash customers also see the “show,” Nercesian said the number of customers making credit card purchases has increased 20% since the screens were installed. He said a major factor in the credit surge appears to be that people feel more comfortable not having to come into the station to make purchases, and leaving their children unattended outside.


The advertisements are stored on a CD-ROM disc, with five commercials stored on the prototype version and displayed at random. Nercesian said future discs would be dedicated primarily to promoting in-house services such as his carwash, but community service announcements and advertising bought by others could also be included.

Although most customers at Nercesian’s station said they didn’t mind advertising as the choice of programming, a few other suggestions were offered. Diane Pickett, a Canyon Country resident with a 3-year-old daughter, suggested music videos.

“Maybe you can get one in by the time you pump your gas,” she said.

Sandy Greenberg, a Newhall resident with two young children, said she thinks the advertising is a good way to pass time at the pump, but doesn’t want the programming to get too entertaining.


“If they showed cartoons, I wouldn’t be able to pull my kids away,” she laughed.