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Can an anonymous email lower gas prices?

Mystery_man Every spring, variations of the same email start to pop into inboxes promising that if the recipient simply forwards it to their friends and relatives and they do the same...then gas prices will magically go down.  Presto Change-O!  Simply based on the number of these that I get from friends, colleauges and strangers, gas prices should be at about 4 cents a litre by now.  Maybe it didn't work because I broke the chain and didn't forward it!  Or maybe it's for other reasons...

You know the email.  It starts by proclaiming "This is not the 'don't buy' gas for one day"  but it will show you how we can get gas back down to..."  Bit of an odd start.  But thank goodness it's not the 'don't buy gas' email because we all know that was a complete disaster. 

Then for credibility, it says it's sent by a retired Executive from a large soft drink maker who got it from a friend who is a retired engineer.  And they apparently they got it from some guy named Phillip Hollsworth.   Sounds like an important man...who hangs around with retired executives and engineers and devises email chain letter schemes.   Have they not heard of golf?  And why are they having some anonymous guy write their manifesto and distribute it for them.  Shouldn't they be standing up to take the credit for their brilliant scheme?  Perhaps it's modesty.  Or perhaps they simply don't exist

The basic premise is that if everybody on the email chain decides to not fill up at one or two of the oil companies identified in the email, then it will force the price down due to lost business. 

Versions of this email have popped up around the world in various forms for at least 7 years now.  The investigators at Snopes.com, who analyze 'Urban Legends', have done a good job documenting the history of it.  Not surprisingly, they declare it to be false.

For Canadians, we get a crude hand-me-down rewrite of the American version.  Gallons changed out for litres, etc.  But for some reason, the math never changes. 

"I am sending this note to 30 people.  If each of us send it to at least ten more...and those 300 send it to at least 10 more...and so on  (paragraph shortened)...you guessed it...THREE HUNDRED MILLION PEOPLE!!!"

It's been a while since I checked the census, but 300 million Canadians seems a little high.   Like 10 times too high.  But wait! The anonymous author who was hired by the Triumvirate of Important Retired Persons (TIRP) explains:

"If you don't understand how we can reach 300 million...you just aren't a mathematician.  But I am...so trust me on this one!"

Well, ok then.  If you say so mystery mathemetician writer person who loves exclamation points!!!!!

So sarcasm aside, would something like this work?  I'm guessing you might find my answer biased.  Thankfully Michael Ervin, who is one of the foremost quoted experts on the oil and gas business in Canada, was asked this very question during an online Globe & Mail forum today.  His full answer is here. Basically he says no, or even worse, it could cause the opposite reaction.  And then he adds this interesting tidbit.

of the many major branded stations in Canada only about half are "company controlled" by the majors. The remainder are either "independent branded" outlets, or branded outlets of various third party marketers. So, as you boycott those major-branded outlets, you are causing "collateral damage" (to use a military term) to a large number of small businesses who simply buy gasoline from a major supplier and sell it at a modest mark-up. You're not hurting the supplier (who, as I've said, would still be selling just as many litres at wholesale), you're hurting the innocent local gas station operator.

Now don't get me wrong.  I don't like seeing people so frustrated by gas prices that they cling to anonymous emails in hopes that maybe they will magically bring relief.   We've tried to put helpful fuel efficieny tips and gas price explanations on this blog to help consumers manage their consumption and get answers.  I must warn you though - none of it is as exciting as the Triumvirate of Important Retired Persons and their mystery mathemetician writer friend.  Maybe when I retire.... 

Photo Credit: 2757


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Interesting post Jon

But I think you need to be more mindful of the message these emails (and other things) are trying to convey to the industry about the helplessness consumers around the world feel about the inexorable rise of crude prices - with its inevitable (seemingly instantaneous) impact at retail and on our wallets.

To bemoan the mathematical validity of these viral messages is frankly beside the point. Its the lack of rational explanation for the pricing activity that causes one's brain to short circuit. And once the credibility of pricing is lost - then we might as well install real one-arm bandits/slot machines and let us have the momentary illusion that there might be a slim chance of a 'fair' deal in the offing.

Helpful fuel tips, gas price explanations aren't working or helping Canadians learn to manage their fuel expenditures. Yes its true - if it weren't for the dollar, or China, or hurricanes, or constrained distribution, or refinery fires, or speculators or potential conflict, or OPEC or greed or..or...or... the price of gas would be ....different.

The trickle-down impact on the global economy is being reported on daily. This isn't a Canadian problem - but WE consumers are looking to our fellow Canadian enterprises to help solve those parts of the problem that together WE have some control over and not glean incremental profit as a result of it. Indeed if that should prove to be the case - then why shouldn't WE the government benefit from the (incremental) global rise of energy prices instead of just the sector - beyond the existing tax structures.

But additional even more progressive solutions are called for and this could prove to be an interesting forum to explore those options. Equally so - this is a golden opportunity for someone to step up to the plate and take a leadership stance with its customers and be part of the solution. Doing so will engender more lasting brand affinity than all the other market initiatives and continuity programs combined.

All jocularity aside, this is no longer an inconvenience or annoyance for us complacent Canadians - its moved well beyond that ....and we haven't even begun to see the traditional run up in pump prices for the summer as yet.



Those who are upset about the tax portion of the pump price should look to Europe, where the taxes are about 4 times our rate. There is nothing wrong with "tax shifting" to reward conservers at the expense of wasters. My anger about high fuel prices is directed at those who drive frivolous trips or heavy cars as a status symbol rather than for need. They raise demand, and therefore, prices.


I quit my part time job while the pump prices are highest. Sit back on the farm and watch the grass grow , and wonder if the gas prices will be down when it is time to transport my food production . Note that we have no public transportation , so most activity requires driving .I could market some as fertilizer for future grass growth, and let the local consumer pay transportation from a foreign country for food.Kinda seems silly to limit potential because of taxation though .Tax is a percentage of retail cost. Agriculture gets a small fixed tax reduction on fuel consumed in our province.

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