Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Big Switch Part 2

A little bit of history

In February 2009 Bord Gais Energy started to talk directly with a few Irish bloggers. On the eve of their Big Switch launch they were interested in seeing how well that would play as part of their marketing push for the promotion. It wasn't anything too intense: an informal approach (via Damien Mulley) to tell the assembled (and mostly bemused) bloggers what they were planning. Just another promotional activity from a big Irish company is the gist of it. And pushing 160,000 conversions, the vast majority of them via the web, tells you fairly emphatically that it's been hugely successful.

A small part of that success has been the online engagement. They ran a nice chatty Twitter campaign to back up the activity of the promo, but with the amount of PR and ATL activity through solid work from DDFH&B, plus a no-brainer offer of a guaranteed minimum 10% saving over ESB prices, it was never going to fail. The question was, how well would it succeed?

That laptop theft

We know now, of course. But what wasn't foreseen was the bit of a PR disaster with customers and the online community that resulted from the theft of sensitive consumer data. With customers because it was their data, and with the online community because BGE's engagement, hitherto chummy, suddenly turned to static. The tweeting stopped and no real explanations were forthcoming for an extended period. When it came, it was through the usual channels, and not the direct, speedy interface of online engagement.
Companies have fires like this to contend with all the time, and BGE rode it out fairly well, all things considered. The arguably less important of the two issues, their nascent relationship with the online community (a complete misnomer of itself btw, but that's another day's discussion), was a little bruised, but in many respects that community is a self-regarding and quite small entity in marketing terms within Ireland. Each year it becomes more relevant and professional, but these are early days. Plenty of companies of BGE's stature and even more smaller ones wouldn't even deign to engage with bloggers, Tweeters and online types. But that's where BGE showed some foresight, I'd have to say. Knowing that this is part of the marketing mix, and at least attempting to converse, makes them the trendsetters and made everyone else with a promo since then ask their digital connections to 'do a Bord Gais for us'. Thus far, despite quite a few people doing different things to engage customers online, nobody's engaged at the level of BGE. So how have they followed it up?

The Big Switch Part 2

Lucy is back on TV, in another campaign from DDFH&B, this time mopping up what was missed last time out. There's been a display campaign, Google Adwords and all the rest. They've also stuck by the online community and gone a step further than last year's launch by creating an entire online campaign that doesn't feature Lucy at all, but is a much more format-friendly guerrilla style.

The Last Family, featuring the last man to want to switch to Bord Gais Energy, Sean Last, is a series of 'amateur' productions by the fictional family itself designed to highlight some of the issues that non-switchers might have, and the resolutions to them.

Bord Gais Energy launched this exclusively online campaign to selected bloggers on the last day of March this year. Most of the bloggers were following up on the teaser video by Young Kubrick (as the junior member of the Last family was called in a Twitter campaign). It involved the acting out of a live ad on a set in front of the assembled bloggers, who were encouraged to tweet about it as it happened.

It generated quite a bit of local interest online, as you can see if you follow the #livead hashtag on Twitter. As is the way of online, the comments include less than glowing ones. Some more fleshed-out coverage can be seen here at Mediacontact and at Channelship.

But does it all work?

The Big Question. For any company, but especially a larger one, social engagement must be a pain in the arse. It can consume horrible amounts of time to talk directly to consumers, and very often for what seems like little in return. Or maybe even less than that. There's a ton of slowly-being-written rules that you have to observe, and woe betide you if you piss off the wrong online influencers. And aside from time invested, engagement doesn't come for free. It's still cheaper than TV or press or a detailed mail drop, but it ain't cheap.

So why do it? Do you really have to? I mean, it hasn't done any favours for Nestlé, has it? And the point that Fianna Fail pretty much shoulder-jabbed into an ambushed and highly irate group of soc media and political bloggers in Feb of last year still holds. A front page in a national daily will reach tens of thousands more than most blogs would hope to attract.

Ultimately I don't believe big companies have a choice. And I'm being disingenuous with the two references in the previous paragraph. In fairness both of them handled their business at best opaquely, and at worst ineptly. The truth will set you free, and the truth is spelled out with statistics. The Big Switch didn't happen mostly on the phone or by post. It was an online initiative that recruited the vast majority of switchers via the website. What we hear about declining TV viewership and folding local newspaper titles is true, and while maybe not as dramatic as it's made out, it's still a slide that won't be reversed. The flipside is that more and more time is spent online, whether at home, at work or on mobiles. The realisation is slowly dawning: a company NOT interacting with its customers is girding itself today for hari kiri tomorrow. Even the exception that proves the rule is getting (oh so terribly slightly) involved with social media.

SWOT analysis time.

The pursuit of online marketing means a realignment of practices, and it represents a threat to any traditional advertising agency, particularly if they're wedded to their traditions. It also represents an opportunity, and one that's as available to yesterday's ad agencies as to any new ones. Look at the Big Switch promotion as an example of evolving thinking. They deal with a spectrum of agencies, each bringing different skills to the task of promoting The Big Switch. There are more than the ones I've outlined here, but I'm too lazy to check.

DDFH&B for TV, radio and press advertising
Web Factory for site design
Pembroke Communications for PR/event management
Mulley Communications for online PR/marketing
Eighty:Twenty and Radical for interactive advertising

I was even involved myself, in a small way, as one of the writers for the online videos and also for some of the site and display ad content.

I say this as a way of demonstrating a point. Where once there was one single agency, or possibly two, which looked after every cradle-to-grave aspect of a client's needs, the model is now redefined. Partly because of the number of disciplines now involved. Nobody can keep that much expertise inhouse. It's in every agency's best interests to be fully up to speed at all times with what's going on around them in terms of digital comms expertise. There's a lot of it out there, from apps development to site functionality to online video production etc etc. That's even before you think in terms of creativity. That will, in the long haul, be the constant. The agency that remains creatively excellent down any channel will still be the one that makes the biggest impact, in my humble.


  1. The Big Post about the Big Switch.

    Your post just kicked off a media alert on my phone and I just had to read it even though its 2.46 in the morning. Proof that online media is almost instant.

    Anyway fab post Nick but you did agree to mention me in each paragraph, lol, what happened?

  2. Glad to hear I'm getting you up at night! Actually, erm...