How do you excite people around a topic we don’t talk about?


People get a bit of a bad rap when it comes to their energy use and awareness. The general consensus is that much of the population simply doesn’t care about energy—until they don’t have it, of course.

But on a typical fully powered day, most are unconcerned about where it comes from or how much they use. It’s unfair to place the entirety of the blame for this energy indifference on the shoulders of consumers, as the responsibility also falls on energy service providers and the energy industry as a whole. You see, energy is one of those things that has always just kind of been there. An invisible fuel reliably delivered to every outlet, appliance and gadget throughout your home. Customers aren’t typically briefed on the intricacies of energy generation or, for that matter, any real details beyond how much it costs each month.

Which is fine … as long as everyone is happy with this blind, impersonal relationship. However, an issue arises when energy providers or other organizations in the industry want people to start caring about energy. To develop emotions and become more cognizant of how much they use, the load on the grid, renewable resources and the forces behind rising costs.

From a marketing standpoint, how can you get people to connect with and care about something they don’t truly understand or want to talk about? It’s a challenge Brand Cool faces every day on behalf of our clients, and it’s the topic of a webinar we recently cohosted through the Association of Energy Services Professionals (AESP).

No, T.P. isn’t a fella working here who prefers a pair of initials to a proper first name. We’re going to take a moment to talk about toilet paper.

For as long as can be remembered, toilet paper advertising has avoided the true purpose of the product it’s selling. A family of animated bears frolicking about the forest or irrelevant infants (they’re seldom users and notoriously infrequent purchasers) floating through the clouds were seen as more palatable depictions of product benefits than any mention of cleanliness, wiping, or the “p” word. This empty talk resulted in brand preference and loyalty being largely inherited, as people just kept using what their parents bought growing up.

Only just recently have brands recognized the opportunity to actually create a brand and connect with their audience. By going beyond being the softest or thickest, injecting some personality into their marketing and directly addressing the taboo topic of toilet time, they might actually get people to care about what toilet paper they use.

Now we have Cottonelle wanting to talk about your bum and even some specialty bathroom products like Poo-Pourri producing gems like this (about a minute should give you the idea):

Once sacred and secret, Poo-Pourri is openly addressing what happens behind closed bathroom doors. Very openly.

These types of campaigns take the taboo associated with a relatively uninteresting topic and make it funny, engaging, memorable—and viral. Seems a relatively easy feat when you’re literally tapping into toilet humor. But can it work for energy? It can. In fact, we’re already seeing some energy organizations leverage humor to connect with their audience. For example, take this spot from BC Hydro, a Canadian energy provider:

Who says energy can’t be quirky and funny?

It’s simple. It’s funny. It has personality. But more importantly, it connects the invisible energy we don’t like to talk about to one of the most important things in many people’s lives—the Internet.

OK, so we’ve seen some examples of how a few big brands have added an element of personality and entertainment to their marketing. But how does it relate to the everyday work we do? A great example is the five-episode, web-based sitcom we developed for one of our client’s residential energy-reduction programs. Our goal was to drive people to apply for a free home energy assessment, which identifies where their home is wasting energy and recommends ways they can fix it. While a valuable service that can save serious money, it’s not always the most interesting topic. Plus, the potentially expensive upfront costs make many people reluctant to participate. We wanted to take a slightly more unorthodox approach to communicating the program’s benefits.

Turns out improving the energy efficiency of your home can be entertaining as well.

Instead of listing the reasons why the program was beneficial, we created a story driven by relatable characters to illustrate it—characters that were based on in-depth research and representative of our target audience. Before a single scene was written, our team had conversations with panels of diverse homeowners throughout New York State and conducted quantitative surveys to really tap into the way people feel about energy.

We were able to identify three profiles with three distinct motivations for investing in the energy efficiency of their homes: those who want their home to be more comfortable, those who value the idea of cutting waste by taking control over their energy consumption, and those who have a desire to make a positive impact on the world. These profiles became the characters we see in the series. Then, with the substance in place, we were able to add in the entertainment.

As marketers, it’s important to remember that any and every topic can be made interesting. Every brand can be given personality and every message can be made entertaining. All it takes is knowing your audience, knowing the marketplace and bringing a healthy dose of creativity to places it can sometimes seem like it doesn’t belong.