MARKETING: Farewell to Esso?

The rented car swung off the forest-flanked road in the North Carolina countryside and moved into a clearing on which had been erected a bright sign bearing the cryptic letters EXXON. Several high-priced executives climbed from the car, scrutinized the sign, conferred enthusiastically—and then just as mysteriously drove off. Within minutes, workmen ripped down the pole and emblem and sneaked away.

All this huggermuggery was to enable executives from Standard Oil of New Jersey and its Humble Oil subsidiary to get a secret peek at the mock-up of a gas-station sign that...

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