Powershop kicks off new protest-themed campaign with contextual Waitangi Day ad

No stranger to controversy, electricity company Powershop says it’s bringing power “back to the people” with its latest campaign, which is based around famous acts of protest and standing up against the status quo.

The company released the first part of the campaign, dubbed ‘What the Heke’ on Waitangi Day. It is a split image with a flagstaff on the left, labelled ‘electricity’ and an axe on the right labelled ‘power’, a reference to Hone Heke who challenged the authority of the British by cutting down the flagstaff multiple times on Flagstaff Hill AKA Maiki Hill at Kororareka.

And, while the subject matter is potentially touchy, Powershop head of marketing and sales Hamish Wilkie says the ad has only had positive feedback so far.

“Given our track record of slightly challenging creative, I think people are seeing it for what it is, which is a celebration of protest more than anything else.”

He says the campaign, which has been created by Doublefish, is about standing up against injustice and, as it has been saying since inception in 2009, putting the power in the hands of the consumer.

“It’s something we are trying to take to the electricity industry in terms of going against the status quo, as the industry hasn’t done as much of a good job as it should have. We try to do things differently. We give customers information on what how much electricity they’re using now rather than estimating at end of month, so they have better understanding of their costs and we provide them with different methods of paying. We also don’t penalise people if they pay a day or two late.”

While Wilkie won’t share any other images that will be featured in the campaign, he says they follow a similar vein.

“They’re about significant protest events in New Zealand history and we’ll be rolling out further executions over the next few months. We see it having real legs to go a lot longer because it is based on a fundamental truth of the business.”

Wilkie says Powershop, which is owned by Meridian, has been working with Doublefish for six years and most of their campaigns have twisted a fair number of knickers. Its last campaign featured troubled New Zealand politicians illustrated by fellow collaborator and cartoonist Murray Webb. And the caricatured faces of Hone Harawira, Judith Collins and John Banks saw the company’s referral rate skyrocket, jumping from 9-11 percent to 23.95 after releasing the Collins ad.

Powershop introduced a fictional warlord to the nation in 2013 and its ‘Same Power, Different Attitude’ campaign, which placed famous real-life dictators, tyrants and villains in uncharacteristic positions also caused some controversy. This campaign led Auckland Council to ban an image of Chairman Mao doing the ‘Gangnam Style’ dance from appearing on bus stops.

Powershop has showed the Pope endorsing gay marriage, Obama and Putin cross-dressing and Star Wars’ villain Darth Vader prancing through a field in 2011. Despite being forced to remove that offending ad due to a cease and desist letter from LucasFilm, it pushed its luck again in Australia and was forced to take down another Darth Vader-inspired billboard

Last spring the company released a much less controversial animation, created by Ned Wenlock from Wellington-based animation studio Oneedo. This one focused on innovation and showed the company as being the more “futuristic” choice in terms of what it can offer the consumer. 

On that note, Wilkie says the company’s mobile app is seeing success and is now used by almost 40 percent of its 58,000-strong customer base in New Zealand. It was also selected as a finalist in last year’s Best Effect awards. And it’s helped maintain its position as the country’s most liked power company. 

“Our mobile app means customers have access to info whenever they want to so they can buy specials to reduce power, pay off their bill when it suits them. We’ve seen really solid growth in terms of our uptake within our existing base, which is great as it means they’re able to save more by understanding the usage and taking advantage of our specials. The overall feedback is that customers really love it and it allows them to engage with their electricity consumption which makes it fun. And that’s not a word you would normally associate with electricity.”

Wilkie says the company is also doing well in Australia and, after launching in November 2013, Powershop says it now has over 30,000 customers there. 

“Australia is going from strength to strength, they’re growing quickly and building their business, so we are very excited about the success they’re having over there. The mobile app has been available since our launch there and is getting excellent penetration with customers.”

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