How Mercury and FCB built a car to show the power of energy

It was in July 2016 that Mercury buzzed its way into the market, having been born from the coming together of Mighty River Power and Mercury Energy, and a brand purpose to show off the power of its product with the line ‘Energy made Wonderful’.

To date, that has come in the form of electric bikes (e-bikes) and now Mercury is stepping it up a notch with electric vehicles (EVs).

“We never wanted to be about shiny hoverboards and talking about what we will one day be able to,” says chief strategist David Thomason. “We wanted to be able to talk about things that are real now.”

He says e-bikes were fantastic because they provided the chance for people to change their behaviour straight away and now, with EVs knocking on our doors, it’s time to take a closer look at the power of four wheels running on electricity.

To make the announcement, Mercury and FCB have released a new iteration of the ‘Energy Made Wonderful’ campaign featuring two young-at-heart old-timers, Ron and Malcolm, and their classic yellow car.

But it’s not your ordinary car.

While the body is a 57 Ford Fairlane painted in Mercury’s brand colour and adorned with the number plate WONDFL, intrigue is sparked when Malcolm turns the keys and the expected grunt of an engine is not heard. Instead, the car quietly powers up, allowing the pair to exit their retirement village before putting the pedal to the metal and heading into the city on their adventure.

At the end of the ad, it becomes clear the car is powered by electricity as Malcolm plugs it in on the return home before they sneak back into bed.

But beyond the interesting car, it’s a delightful tale and one that shows a new lease of life in both the two characters as well as their car.

To explain the creative, Thomason refers to Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson, which says that when motivating people to do something or buy something, there’s a risk of getting trapped in focusing on the idea of being shiny, new and nothing you’ve ever seen before—but people don’t want that.

What they actually want is a sense of comfort and with that in mind, Thomason says great consideration was given when choosing the particular model of car to convert to an EV.

The 57 Ford Fairlane was found to be the perfect fit to get a new lease of life, while Ron and Malcolm’s age also complements the idea.

“These guys have lived a good life and are embracing it,” Thomason says. 

The journey is also seen in shorter, 30-second clips that work to bust the myths about electric vehicles, like difficulty charging and expense.

They also take a look at how one-day petrol stations will one day be redundant.

Beyond the screen, this campaign goes further with an out-of-home campaign showcasing the car.

But it wasn’t enough to put the car on a billboard. The car is hitting the road as a moving logo for the brand.

Beyond the TVC

“It’s not just telling, it’s showing and telling,” says executive creative director Tony Clewett when explaining the rationale of building an actual electric vehicle. “It’s a true demonstration of what the campaign is about.”

Given electricity is an invisible product, the car creates something tangible that people can see and feel—while the smell and sound were somewhat taken away with the refurbishment under the hood and removal of the engine.

“It’s a living embodiment of ‘Energy made Wonderful’, says Clewett.

He adds having the car is particularly powerful given we live in a “very CGI world” these days, in which people don’t expect everything to be real. To explain, he recalls working on a campaign for Genesis Energy featuring pukeko and people would ask him if the pukekos were fake.

Building the car, or “Evie” as it’s come to be called, started six months ago when FCB found the 57 Ford Fairlane for sale in Mt Maunganui and proposed to Mercury that it become the new brand symbol. To Thomason and Clewett’s surprise, Mercury instantly approved and bought the car.

“We said to [chief marketing officer]Julia Jack, ‘it’s not every day you sign off that for a campaign’ and she said: ‘Without a blink of an eye, I’d sign off an outdoor campaign and really I’m buying a really beautiful outdoor campaign here’,” explains Clewett.

“It was a lovely, courageous step forward and the journey began.”

And so, in true Kiwi ingenuity style, FCB and Mercury headed down south to a Dunedin shed where a team of EV conversion specialists took Evie apart and gave it a new, electric interior.

Along for the ride was Mercury chief executive Fraser Whineray, whose involvement shows the real investment Mercury had in the project.

While the whole project has been documented in a near-three-minute video that’s launched with the campaign, Evie will now be hitting the streets to demonstrate the power of EVs to the public.

“We want people to know it’s real, we are not towing the car along or silencing the soundtrack, this is an electric car we’ve actually made,” says Thomason.

One of the destinations it heads to will be Beach Hop in Whangamata, where Thomason and Clewett predict it’ll raise a few eyebrows among petrol heads.

And while they joke about adding effects to create a petrol smell and having an engine sound come through the stereo, they also hope to see a respect for Evie as people can get up close and experience it for themselves.  

An image issue

Looking at the campaign as a whole, Clewett says it wanted to create an emotional brand connection with the energy category as it’s typically been seen as a rational one.

He says there’s a lot of customers who don’t remember which energy supplier they are with, as it’s decision often made according to price package offers.

What Mercury is promoting is the power of energy and its hoped this campaign will make existing customers feel an association with the brand as well as attract new campaigns.

“I want people to go ‘Mercury is passionate about energy’,” says Clewett.

That rational decision that’s been seen in choosing an energy supplier has similarly been associated with EVs and the ‘Energy made Wonderful’ line provides an opportunity to change the perspective on the vehicles. 

“In essence, the campaign isn’t about getting you right now to buy, it’s about a celebration of them coming and this is a wonderful proof point of ‘Energy Made Wonderful’,” says Clewett.

To do that, the campaign avoids the sustainable, sensible messaging that’s typically been associated with EVs and makes them exciting.

Clewett and Thomason say they looked at the wider picture of the motivations and emotions that come with purchasing a car, and that was excitement, and a feeling of freedom that you can go and do your own thing on your own wheels.

The creative still to come in the campaign delves further into the idea, as well as busting the myths about EVs, including distance, cost and difficulty to charge.

It will also hint at the fact we won’t be visiting petrol stations in the future, instead, it will be dairies people head to before going on a road trip.

A sustainable brand platform

While Evie has been in the pipeline for the past six months, Mercury has been focusing on renewable energy since 2016, and this was seen in the company putting its money where its mouth is and investing in a fleet of e-bikes. 

At the time, Jack told StopPress the focus on the e-bike was important because the team at Mercury saw them as an important step in the progression of New Zealand to electric transport.

She pointed out that while New Zealand is a global leader in renewable energy, with 80 percent of all energy coming from renewable sources (Mercury boasts 100 percent), our transport system remains reliant on oil and gas.

Those bikes have since been shown off in a tour around the country as well as in a series of TVCs, and Mercury customers have been able to join in with an offer saving them up to $500 off an e-bike purchase.

When Mercury and FCB rolled out phase two of the e-bike campaign in August last year, the 12 months prior had seen e-bikes sales more than double, while more than two million Kiwis said they loved the idea of e-bikes according to a survey by Colmar Brunton.

Mercury itself was also reporting solid customer growth with net gains over 18,000 ICPs (customer connections) in the 12 months through to June 2017. The previous 12-month period saw Mercury Energy lose 8,000 customers.

Mercury also saw its highest customer retention rate, lowering customer churn to 13.5 percent (well below the industry average of 20.1 percent).

To put the value of this into perspective, each percentage point under the industry average accounts
for $1.2 million in avoided replacement costs (totalling $7.6 million).

With these results, it’s no surprise the campaign won Mercury the Supreme Award at the TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards last year as well as the Grand Effie at the Effies with FCB.

Now, in the hopes of continuing on that course, Thomason reflects on some of the learnings, identifying one as Mercury’s position alongside e-bikes.

“We heard competitors and various people say ‘they don’t even sell bikes’. We knew we were doing it to create a symbol and something tangible, rather than just go ‘we make electricity through dams and wind’. But at times we almost got distracted ourselves. We were going quite deep.”

Thomason says selling bikes isn’t the objective, yet the more electric bikes that are out there, the more people are reminded of Mercury.

“Ultimately the objective is about customers loving the brand, customer retention and customer acquisition.”

Reflecting on that learning, he says this time it has gone down the emotional route, with a broader message rather than going too much into the “nitty gritty”.

“It’s a fine-tuning thing and I think generally we are pleased with how the whole campaign ran out,” says Thomason.

That fine-tuning can be seen as far back as when Mercury and FCB started working on the rebrand and identifying a brand purpose.

Thomason says the line that was initially put together was ‘Inspiring New Zealanders to use energy in more wonderful ways’. It was then Whineray who suggested changing the word ‘use’ to ‘enjoy’.

“I think that’s the best senior client feedback I’ve ever had. That shows he’s committed,” says Thomason.

With this in mind, he goes on to explain the campaign is an example of the long-term thinking FCB is committed to, and the fact the tide is turning with brands remembering the importance of it.

“Clients spend a lot of energy making something that goes out for five minutes then they shift to the next one. It’s hard, but there’s been long enough of that thinking to check out the results and see brand health is declined from too much short-term thinking.”

And, it’s not just a digital versus broadcast debate approach because you can build a brand on digital. Instead, here Thomason says there is an idea which can go for years rather than a few months, and that’s the really important thing.

Thomason commends Mercury for deciding to relaunch their brand and do it properly. He says the new thinking has gone beyond the marketing team and through the entire organisation—something businesses used to do, and are now starting to realise they’d forgotten.

“I think Mercury’s exemplary. That’s why we are thrilled it won last year, not just for FCB but for the whole industry to be reminded of the power of brand.”

Clewett adds that with a line like ‘Energy made Wonderful’, it’s endless where Mercury can go with that.

“As long as they are in the energy sector, in 10 year’s time we should be sitting here talking about the next iteration of where we have gone.”


Client: Mercury
Agency: FCB New Zealand
​Production Company: FINCH
Director: Patrick Hughes
Photography: Steve Boniface | Match
Car Conversion: Control Focus

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