Despite the huge amount of customer data energy companies have at their disposal, not many of them have used that data well to create useful tools for customers to manage their power consumption. Some might say that's because it's in the interests of energy companies for their customers to use more energy, even though it might not be in the best interests of society as a whole. But following in the footsteps of Powershop's useful online usage meters and hints on how to reduce consumption, Mercury Energy has also come to the utility party with a new product called the Good Energy Monitor, or GEM.
Mercury Energy, under its ex-marketing head Mike Larmer, who is now at indie agency Chemistry, launched its ‘Good Energy’ brand campaign in 2012, followed by a few social experiments and the impressive Good Energy Taxi. But, as evidenced by the success of the Consumer Powerswitch campaign, which brought attention to how much consumers were paying for power and led to very high switching rates, it was an issue that needed to be dealt with. So the challenge for TBWA\ for this product was to demonstrate to Kiwis how GEM allows them to take control of their power bill, something it has aimed to do by showing how confusing life would be if we had to buy everyday items like petrol and food without knowing what they were going to cost.
"This was an exciting brief and we feel we've succeeded in connecting consumers with Mercury’s continued intent to share Good Energy," said Andy Blood, Whybin\TBWA's acting executive creative director in a release. "Historically, Kiwis have been asked to buy their power without knowing what the bill is going to be. By projecting this thinking into common situations such as your weekly supermarket shop, we were able show the value of Mercury’s GEM, an online tool which allows Kiwis to take the guesswork out of their power bill."
Mercury Energy’s manager of customer marketing, Ben Harvey-Lovell was unable to be contacted to discuss the new initiative, but said in a release that giving customers "unparallelled visibility of when and how they’re using electricity" enables them to better control their energy usage and costs.
"The TVC in particular demonstrates perfectly why GEM is going to be such a useful tool for customers when it comes to buying power in the future," he says.
Eleven PR's Amber McEwen says the product was developed in-house at Mercury.
The website details how it uses smart meters to show detailed breakdowns of usage by year, by bill, by day or even by half-hour. Customers can view usage over time and also see how the weather influences their bill.
Unlike the seemingly arbitrary bill estimations often made in the past before a human came to read the meter, GEM also uses smart meters to predict what the bill may be at the end of a billing cycle. And if you’re heading towards a high bill, an e-mail alert can let you know.
One of the best ways to change behaviour—or to increase the sense of shame/worthiness—is to use comparisons and social proof. So GEM, in a similar fashion to Auckland's Watercare bills, allows customers to compare usage to a group of 100 other Mercury customers whose homes are close to theirs and similar in size.
And, like Powershop, GEM also offers advice on how to save energy and money. Users can set a savings goal and then choose from a library of energy savings tips to build a plan that will help them meet that target.
UPDATE: Powershop's design director Simon Coley doesn't think this is that similar or new.
"They are obviously trying to "sell" one of the same benefits as Powershop but the similarity ends there. All the major retailers have endeavoured to develop technology to help customers measure and monitor their power usage and leverage their investment in smart metering. Meridian and Genesis have both had online usage monitoring tools for a while.
This is the third attempt I know of Mercury trying to partner with a third party to deliver these online tools including Google's Powermeter then Onzo from the UK and now a US firm called O Power. It looks like they are spending heavily to promote their version of "control" but, if you look at the number of people liking the videos, the campaign doesn't appear to be a roaring success and they're missing two other key benefits of Powershop; choice and savings. Still, I guess imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.
Ari [Sargent] and I met O Power in the US and have been sharing ideas with them for a few years. The thing they were most interested in was our shop and it appears to be the most difficult area to replicate. From the outset we decided not to limit our customers to people with smart meters. We also didn't want to force people to be slaves to an out-dated business model. One that didn't show them how much they'd used and what it cost and wouldn't allow them a choice or to pay for it until after the fact.
Powershop's real innovation is in the simple act of shopping, buying power rather than having to pay for it. This new business model really does put the power in our customers hands. With Powershop they have always been able to buy electricity on their own terms and we've given a new feature that allows them to choose the day they'd like to pay if they want to run their account in arrears. It's our view that buying third party technology isn't a sustainable or innovative approach."
The TVC was shot by Assembly and launched on 20 March, and it is supported by the website, which is also thought to have been developed by Mercury, and a homepage takeover of stuff.co.nz that's set to run on Thursday.
Genesis took a step in a more transparent direction recently with the launch of an 18-month long experiment called 'Tomorrow Street', which turns "some typical New Zealand streets into the country's first advanced energy neighbourhood" and involves Colmar Brunton, Righthouse, Unitec, the University of Auckland Energy Centre and Power Technology.
"Tomorrow Street is made up of 15 households who will try out a variety of exciting new energy-saving technology—innovations that could ultimately transform the way we all use energy."
And it's offering discounts on some of that technology as well.
Credits for Mercury GEM
Executive Creative Director: Andy Blood
Copy Writer: Julian Andrews
Head of Planning: Simon Bird
Agency Producer: Jessica Hogan
Senior Account Director: Nick Bulmer
Account Director: Mark Wilson
Account Executive: Lynlee Smith
Production company: Assembly