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EDF Energy: 2014 IPA Effectiveness Awards Shortlist Interview

Using a lovable character, Zingy, to promote a message of “low carbon energy at no extra cost”, this campaign delivered a short-term profit ROI of £2.36 for every £1 invested.

EDF-Feel-Better-EnergyQ1. When and why did you decide to launch a campaign?

CH: “The need for change became apparent in 2010 as our existing positioning was failing to drive performance in our retail division.

“We needed to grow – quickly – and our green position was failing to address the very real concerns people faced as a result of the global financial crisis. We needed to change direction and to speak to core issues, such as energy prices and customer service.”

CM: “EDF Energy has been a consistent advertiser, but the ‘Feel Better Energy’ campaign was driven by the desire to break our low growth cycle and do something entirely different in the market – to appeal emotionally and challenge the market conventions.”

Q2. How did you feel about the original brief?

CH: “We had done a lot of research and I felt very confident that the changes we were instituting were correct. I also had the support of the board and senior executives across the business.”

CM: “The original brief was exciting and, of course, we had a hand in creating it.  We had worked with the inspiration of Adam Morgan (author of key books on challenger brands) in the early stages, soon after winning the pitch.  We knew we had a new product concept to launch and also a desire to disrupt the market.  The clients had remarkable ambition, so it was pretty much the dream brief.”

Q3. How hard was it to get the campaign signed off?

CH: “The change we sought to implement was monumental. We had to convince the leaders of a very large, diversified and conservative energy company, to adopt a quirky and edgy persona. We managed to do this, but only as a result of having planned the process of stakeholder engagement with military precision.”

CM: “Very hard! We went through a range of creative ideas that did not hit the mark, and were running out of time.  When we found our character (whom we would later name Zingy), we knew we had something fascinating, but it was so different from everything in the category that most clients were taken aback.

“The immediate clients got it quite quickly and instinctively. But the leaders of the business beyond marketing required two rounds of qual and two rounds of quant before they could believe that this was powerful.

“The data swayed them. Sadly, the clients from EDF Energy’s parent company in France were never very happy with Zingy. Fortunately for us, they were not able to stand in the way of the launch, although they remain sceptical to this day, despite the campaign’s success.”

Q4. When and how did you first know that you had been successful?

CH: “The first inkling came from social media. People simply went bonkers for Zingy and the campaign went viral. At one point, we were in the top 10 global viral videos (based on research by IAB and Mashable). Confirmation then came from our tracking results and sales performance.”

CM: “The good thing about launching a new product is that you can see direct uptake. Our campaign was the major marketing lever and we could see sales take off from the moment we launched.
“You also tend to know you’re on to something when you get sent the idea by other clients who had no idea you were working on it. We would occasionally see Zingy turning up in other clients' offices, because people loved the character so much.”

Q5. What was the biggest challenge in demonstrating the effectiveness of your work?

CH: “Linking brand effects to sales performance, which we eventually did via a combination of conjoint analysis, regression and econometrics.”

CM: “The biggest issue was in explaining the mechanism by which we would generate sales and affinity. Time and again, in research people would say some version of ‘I didn’t want to like it, but I think I do’.

“Zingy seemed to bypass people’s rational minds completely and engage them emotionally. But they couldn’t bring themselves to admit that they would then take out a product. Luckily, we had Acacia Avenue doing our research and they were able to explain how this kind of reaction was likely to result in business success. We could not have done it without them.”

Q6. How did this campaign compare to previous campaigns by the brand and competitors?

CH: “We significantly exceeded all benchmarks for the brand and quickly started to close the gap on the market leader, BG (British Gas).” 

CM: “EDF Energy had been running a campaign called ‘Save today, save tomorrow’, with ads made from found footage (‘recycled clips’), and had been activating sponsorship of London 2012 with the Team Green Britain idea. Whilst logically correct, the campaigns were based on rational appeal and had few common elements linking executions. As a result, awareness build was slow and gradual.

“British Gas had also recently launched its ‘Planet Home’ campaign (Gold, 2012). There was very little else in the category of note. e.on had just launched its illustrated campaign attempting to get people to talk about energy, spending a lot of money for very little effect.

“Nothing quite matched the counter intuitive emotional appeal of Zingy.” 

Q7. What lessons did this campaign teach you?

CH: “The necessity of getting the business to a place where it is ready to take a risk (and something of a leap of faith).”

CM: “It is all about the power of emotion and saliency.  If you make something unique and popular, that is intimately linked to your brand, then you can achieve almost anything, even in the most challenging of categories.”

Q8. What were the low points/high points of this campaign?

CH: “Low point = finding out we couldn’t have a Zingy Olympics campaign due to existing Olympic mascots.

“High points = all the letters that poured in from children, grandparents and others across the nation requesting a Zingy.”

CM: “The high points were certainly the launch, and then ‘Coming Home’, one of our most recent executions, when Zingy hitched a ride on a basset hound. It ended up being named cutest ad of all time in Marketing Magazine.

“The low points were all before the launch, on the numerous occasions when we thought it was not going to be approved.”

Q9. What would you do differently if you did this campaign over again?

CH: “Be better prepared for success (especially on social channels and having a position on merchandise etc.)” 

CM: “I think the lesson we have learned is to set Zingy free. We were very protective at the beginning, and resisted calls to produce Zingy merchandise, apps, games, etc.

“Our eyes were on the EDF Energy branding and the sales. We feared that Zingy would quickly become famous outside the brand and unconnected from it. We probably need not have worried so much, and could have built our awareness even more quickly than we did.”

Q10. If you could have worked on one IPA award-winning campaign over the years which would it be, and why?

CH: “Probably Sainsbury’s ‘Try something new’ (Gold, 2008) as the strategic challenge was so well articulated.” 

CM: “I still consider BT’s ‘It’s good to talk’ (Grand Prix, 1996) to be one of the very greatest advertising campaigns produced by any agency anywhere.  Combining commerce and purpose and backing the power of advertising more emphatically than any brand before or since.  I hoped one day to work at the agency that produced it.”

Last updated 08/09/2014

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