Drones are often associated with remote-controlled killing and maiming in war zones, but they're starting to find a more peaceful, playful place in the real world, whether it's taking a selfie with a difference, delivering a pizza or, potentially, dropping off your online purchases. And to announce its arrival in the Auckland market, Energy Online has put one to good use to get punters chatting about a mysterious UFO.
Jason Christini-Crawford, Energy Online's business manager, says the energy retailer, which has traditionally been strong in the regions, especially Hawke's Bay, Counties and Kapiti, has been flying under the radar in the Auckland market for the past few years, so it needed a bold approach to create some buzz in the often dull energy market. To do that, it worked with its agency Twenty and production company Zoomslide to create the UFO, an octocopter drone modified to look like a UFO when flying at night. And, for the first time, the Civil Aviation Authority gave approval for this type of activity. Christini-Crawford says it also talked with the Police and Fire Service to ensure they were aware the stunt was taking place (something the promoters of Ubisoft's Watch Dogs in Australia might have been wise to do after a stunt went awry and resulted in a visit from the bomb squad, although they'll probably be revelling in all the extra attention).
After months of testing, the octocopter was flown by a commercial pilot over Auckland for three consecutive nights and plenty of Aucklanders took to social media to try and uncover what was behind the lights in the sky (no word on whether reports of alien abductions or probes increased). Thousands of images, videos and posts were shared and uploaded online, including on Reddit, and as the number of sightings grew, it was also featured on a range of websites and newspapers across the country, even making the front page of two.
Energy Online was then revealed as the mastermind behind the UFO, coinciding with the appearance of ‘energy circles’ dotted on pavements around the city inviting earthlings to sign up and enter a draw to win a share of $30,000 worth of free power through cheaperenergy.co.nz.
Stunts like this do run the risk of annoying punters through outright trickery, or not being connected well enough to the brand. But Christini-Crawford says Aucklanders were good sports about it when it was revealed as a marketing ploy and he's happy with the levels of awareness it generated for the brand.
“With so many brands competing in the market we wanted to take a fresh approach. We needed something to capture people’s attention, and we certainly achieved that,” he says.
He says it is now moving into the acquisition phase of the campaign, which includes outdoor and ambient media (Adshels, bus backs and a fully wrapped bus), radio, press inserts, letterbox drops and a robust digital and social media strategy.
Energy Online, which has 70,000 customers and has "grown steadily over the past few years", was established in 2000 before being bought by Genesis. It was operated as a separate company for a while, before moving inhouse and becoming a separate retail brand. And while Powershop, a Meridian retail brand, has done well in a similar space to Energy Online, Christini-Crawford believes there is a gap for an energy provider that offers great customer service (it has won the Roy Morgan Customer Satisfaction award for the past two years) but also has a sense of humour and a "light touch".