E.ON is using its marketing to tackle climate change and differentiate in the energy sector, with the brand suggesting that in order to survive it must “have an opinion”.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Scott Somerville, E.ON’s head of advertising, PR and campaigns, says: “In this world, everyone has an opinion and everyone has a point of view, and we can’t escape that. [As a brand] you have to have an opinion.”

Coming from a fairly traditional sector where it can be difficult to differentiate, he believes it also helps the brand stand out.

E.ON is on a mission to engage its customers around the climate crisis. It launched a campaign in March 2018 to highlight its sustainable air source heat pumps and has today (19 September) begun a campaign to tackle air pollution.

The energy provider has dubbed this strategy “un-utility” which looks simultaneously to challenge sector norms and what customers think about E.ON.

E.ON looks to challenge sector norms with an ‘un-utility’ marketing approach

Somerville says: “If you look back, perhaps we weren’t clear enough about what drives us and our point of view as a business. That’s really at the heart of that un-utility view. It’s short-hand for let’s engage people, let’s talk to them about things they’re interested in.”

However, as consumers crave brands with a point of view, some, including Unilever CEO Alan Jope, are beginning to warn of ‘purpose fatigue’.

“The challenge comes when you try to create a purpose to fit the organisation,” Somerville says.

Consumers can smell when something is not quite right.

Scott Somerville, E.ON

“For us, the purpose comes from the products we sell and the way we try to help customers. Other companies have perhaps fallen foul of purpose ringing hollow. Purpose needs to be in your DNA as an organisation; your marketing messages need to come from that.”

E.ON has aimed to build a reputation for sustainable energy and last year pledged to make all its customers’ electricity 100% renewable.

Somerville adds: “Consumers can smell when something is not quite right. What you stand for needs to be genuine. In this day and age you will be found out very quickly if what you say and do isn’t genuine.

“Consumers expect you to be credible and that’s what we’re going for. They are not [necessarily] looking for brand X to deliver Y or stand up on a particular issue, but for people to be credible in what they talk about.”

Campaigning for clean air

The brand is kicking off its air pollution campaign with the erection of a giant lung installation on London’s South Bank. The lungs, which fill with coloured smoke in near-real time, represents the toxic gases that Londoners breathe every day.

The campaign, created by Engine, will also include social and out of home in order to heighten awareness around poor air quality and showcase how E.ON is helping to tackle the issue.

As a marketer in the modern day you want to be highly targeted but this is an issue that effects all of us.

Scott Somerville, E.ON

“This is a slightly unusual campaign as we are trying to highlight a topic that truly is mass market. There is not a single person in the world not affected by this issue,” Somerville says.

The fact E.ON is trying to reach such a broad audience presents something of a “challenge” though.

Somerville explains: “As a marketer in the modern day you want to be highly targeted but this is an issue that effects all of us, irrespective of interests, needs, age and income.”

However, despite the challenge there is a clear business case, as well as a moral one, for the campaign.

“A lot of changes we can help people make as a company [will have a] personal benefit in terms of saving money and usefulness, but also a greater good in fighting the climate crisis,” Somerville suggests.

He believes it’s increasingly important for the brand to address these issues as consumers concerns have been increasing over the past 18 months, which is leading many to look at what they can do on a personal level.

“As a business, it is about responding to that change we’ve seen in customers. It’s about [helping them make changes] in practical sense,” he says. “That is the real business [goal] here. How can I engage [consumers] with those simple practical changes to make life more sustainable?”

And the strategy seems to be working. It’s YouGov BrandIndex score (which is a balance of metrics including quality, value and satisfaction) is up +0.3 from zero in March 2018 when it launched its first campaign.

Ultimately, E.ON feels the work it is doing around climate change and improving air pollution this is a natural fit for the brand. Somerville says: “We’re in the energy market I think it would be strange if we didn’t talk about the environment.”

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