Contact returns to TV after long hiatus, ignores advice on not working with children

After more than ten years away from the silver screen, Contact Energy is back with a series of playful TVCs that aim to tackle the messier side of family life and show how the company is changing. 

Contact Energy communications manager Shaun Jones says this is Contact moving into a different phase, after years of focusing on developing infrastructure (it rebranded last year with the help of Wellington’s Designworks and San Francisco-based type designer Jessica Hische). 

“The ads are us sort of popping up for the first time in a long time,” Jones says. “We’re bringing customers to the core of what we are doing, and listening to what they want from a modern energy company.”

The commercials feature two kids, Casey and Olly, mucking about at home putting on plays about family life. The ads are a bit cheeky, but Contact gets away with it because their innocent protagonists are just so cute.

In the first ad, Casey and Olly put on a play about ‘what happens when the baby comes’.

“The mums get tired cos the babies always eat from their boobs,” Olly explains.

“Dad has boobs too, why can’t he help?” they muse.

“I think it’s because his are too little to milk.”

The ad closes with the voiceover: “Family life can be a little crazy. Contact Energy is changing the way we do things.”

And it certainly is, in it communications at least.

In the energy sector we’re used to seeing a more traditional approach to advertising, Jones says

“What we are looking to do is something a bit different to stand out.”

And so far the ads have had a positive reception.

“It’s been really great. We’ve had quite strong support, with people saying the ads are great, they’re hilarious, that it reflects real life.”

Contact’s agency JWT worked on character development with screenwriter Duncan Sarkies (Two Little Boys, Scarfies, Flight of the Conchords) and the ads were written by Hayley Marks and shot by The Downlow Concept, who work on TV3’s 7 Days. Managing director Simon Lendrum says the overall creative idea is the notion of home truths and the complexities of everyday family life as seen through the eyes of children. But Contact had to tackle some home truths of its own after studying its research.

“The first home truth Contact had to confront was, while providing the product was one thing, the way it was delivered was not always alleviating family life,” Lendrum says. “There was a self realisation that change was required and that things had to be done differently.”

Lendrum says the result is an entirely fresh approach to the category, born more around consumer insight rather than the typical self-reflection of the power and energy industry. 

JWT even has a semi-permanent set for the ad in its office. And while he could not confirm whether future offerings would react to current affairs, he said it would allow more flexibility.

“The intent is it allows us to create ongoing nimble content, which is obviously appropriate in the social domain and the digital world,” Lendrum says.

The latest ad is about what Contact has coined ‘Sweary winters’ and a new Contact Energy product offering that aims to help.

“That one looks at winter bill shock, and the idea being the kids have overheard Dad reacting to the power bill. Power bills go up in winter, so it’s the kids sort of telling the story of what they’ve overheard,” Jones explains. “We have a product that smooths out the payments over the year.”

Cue more adorable moments:

“There’s another word it’s not okay to say, which means a lady dog.”

“One day dad says: ‘SON OF A LADY DOG! Have you seen this power bill’?!”

“Yeah, mum told him off.”

Jones says these sorts of innocent exchanges might seem more provocative coming from an energy company, where, aside from Powershop, boundaries aren’t typically pushed.

“People form certain perceptions around what they accept around certain categories. But it’s about the things kids just say, they get things mixed up and that’s the innocence of it, that’s life,” Jones says.

The ads were pre-approved, so its doubtful Contact will have too much trouble from the complainers. But other energy companies have found themselves in hot water for breaking the mold.

Genesis Energy, which is 51 percent owned by the Government, was criticised late last month for its attempt to get more brand awareness by sponsoring My Kitchen Rules.

The campaign apparently cost less than $500,000, but critics thought this money should have gone back to customers.

Genesis defended itself, saying, “If we didn’t advertise and make offers we’d lose customers. We need to be out there with our brand.”

Contact Energy’s videos will continue to be released sequentially online and on TV, with a growing storyline.

It has also padded out its campaign with a Tumblr site, plenty of chatter on its Facebook page, and even a Minecraft version of its new Te Mihi Power Station.

According to Wikipedia, Contact has 22 percent retail market share, down from 29 percent in 2003, 27 percent in 2006 and 24 percent in 2010. Genesis Energy has the highest market share at 26 percent. 

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