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It's an approach rarely taken by companies in the energy industry -- emphasizing people as a touchpoint for companies, rather than the products sold or quality. Recently, however, three marketing campaigns have been launched by large oil companies to do just that.
Starting in 2005, Shell took a personal approach when it sent its U.S. president, John Hofmeister, on a 50-City Tour to meet and greet the American people and answer their questions about energy. In October 2006, CHS Inc. launched the Cenex Guy campaign for its retail Cenex branded sites. In it, an actor is showcased as a representation of the brand. And in April 2007, BP unveiled Helios Power, an animated advertising campaign featuring other-worldly characters that portray the company's employees.
"I think it's my job as a leader of Shell to assess the environment in which we're operating to see if that environment is helping or hurting us," Hofmeister said. "And after the hurricanes of 2005, I came quickly to the conclusion that the environment was really harmful to the future energy supply of the United States." He noted that while Shell was recognizing the "tremendous and even heroic efforts" of its employees to get facilities online after the hurricanes, escalating gas and oil prices caused a "vehement reaction" by elected officials.
"I felt that [negative] environment was unsustainable, as did my colleagues," he said. "We weighed the different alternatives, and we came to a conclusion that engaging our stakeholders -- customers, elected officials, media, whoever in the communities around the nation who buy our products -- would be the most effective demonstration of our concern."
The reasons behind the 17-month project are three-fold, according to Hofmeister. First, it demonstrates the company's commitment to the marketplace. Secondly, it gives Shell executives a chance to listen to people who are uncomfortable about what the company represents, or those who have ideas that could help the company. Lastly, it presents the company with a forum in which it can express its message of energy security, he said.
The first visit on the tour was Dallas in June 2006, and the final stop will be in November 2007 in a location yet to be announced.
Working with advertising agency Colle & McVoy, CHS created, produced and implemented the Cenex Guy campaign over several months, said Doug Dorfman, refined fuels brand, productand marketing manager for CHS.
The campaign primarily features an actor sporting the Cenex colors and logo in TV and billboard advertising. More than 1,600 retail locations in 22 states also were supplied with a campaign introduction kit, including advertising materials and point-of-purchase information.
Television commercials appear in several dayparts with high viewership. TV and radio spots also air during high school and college sports programming, as well as during major league baseball broadcasts, Dorfman said.
While the company evaluated several creative concepts presented by the advertising agency for the campaign, it chose the Cenex Guy because it could deliver serious, credible, relevant messages in a unique, engaging and entertaining way, according to Dorfman.
The three-year campaign's goal is to "increase awareness and preference for all the products marketed under the brand, including refined fuels, lubricants and propane," he said.
At presstime, CSNews Online reported that CHS also announced that each of its retail sites will undergo a major renovation of their brand identity over the next 36 months.
"A Little Better"
BP launched its $36 million Helios Power marketing campaign to solve a perceived problem in the company's gas station category. "We suffer from all of the negative perceptions of the category -- expensive, dirty, poor food, etc.," said Kathy Seegebrecht, branded communications manager for BP. "We need to be seen as different, to break away from these perceptions."
The program, created by New York-based Ogilvy & Mather and managed by its Chicago office, is a long-term campaign targeted toward families with children. It features national and local television spots, point-of-purchase materials, out-of-home placements in New York and Chicago, a national radio campaign and an ongoing online campaign at www.alittlebettergasstation.com. The company's touchpoint in the campaign is a hard-working team of green-colored Beeps -- "champions of clean," according to its Web site.
In addition, Helios Power-branded consumer promotions were available on-site -- including recyclable bags, sunflower seeds, trading cards with the campaign's characters and "green" tips and environmentally friendly children's books.
Due to substantial mergers in which BP focused on aligning organizations, advertising campaigns centered around the company's retail assets have been nonexistent for nearly a decade. The Helios Power campaign came at the request of BP's partners and an operational excellence program that facilitated BP's proof points of "a little better," Seegebrecht said.
The goal of the campaign is two-fold. First, "to be seen as human -- not arrogant or boastful," Seegebrecht said. "We don't think gas stations have to be a bad experience." Secondly, to reinvigorate the BP retail brand in the U.S. Although the company has invested in its corporate brand, renewed focus on the BP site brand was needed to improve customers' perception of BP and drive brand preference, she said.
The campaign is not only a departure because of its retail focus, but also due to its means of conveyance.
"An animated campaign is definitely different, which is what we were trying to achieve," Seegebrecht said. "The characters help convey an optimistic tone. [They are] playful and innocent. It communicates our message with simple, fun illustrations and few words. Helios Power is about communicating that BP is trying to make every aspect of our retail business a little better. It recognizes it's just a start and that actions, not words, matter most."