Count On It

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The Memo Since the late 1970s, Shell Oil's prestige as a premier company had gradually slipped away. Employees were feeling low-and so were shareholders. How could the company regain its status in the industry?

The Discovery What does "premier" mean, anyway? Shell needed to figure out what made a corporation first-rate in the minds of consumers. So in 1995, Responsive Research Inc. and Opinion Research Corp. led a series of focus groups and one-on-one interviews among various segments of the population, including minorities, youths, residents of neighborhoods near Shell plants, legislators, academics, even employees and retirees of Shell. Top companies, people told researchers, delivered more than just a good product or service. They tried to be an integral part of their communities, not a corporation set apart. And while Shell Oil, which traces its roots back to 1912, was a household name, most people knew very little about the company. Of course, consumers expected Shell to excel in its core business-oil. But they had higher expectations than that.

These insights led Shell and Ogilvy & Mather to develop several short videos that tried to explain the company's central values. Another round of qualitative research by Responsive Research and The BRS Group evaluated the various messages and, ultimately, helped shape the strategy for the campaign. Shell's expertise in the oil industry was a factor to consumers, but so was its promise to be socially responsible. Shell needed to underscore that promise.

The Tactics First, PERT Survey Research was enlisted to run a large-scale quantitative study to determine what messages clicked with the target audience. Would it be something about Shell's innovative chemists, or the company's environmental efforts? Social issues, things that related directly to peoples' lives, resonated strongest. Shell might be proud of its scientists, but consumers knew Shell as an oil company first. The campaign had to start with the familiar-and introduce Shell's technological know-how later.

During the next eight months, Ogilvy & Mather developed 12 campaigns with social themes. Research International and The BRS Group conducted a series of focus groups, interviews, and quantitative studies to see which commercials delivered and which backfired. At each stage in the testing process, Ogilvy & Mather tweaked the creative. The "Count on Shell" campaign, featuring a mix of safety messages, was the last one tested. It turned out to be the best of the bunch. People liked that the ads addressed the quality of their lives. The spots put a face on Shell, providing consumers with meaningful information they could use, like what to do if a tire blows out on the highway. Ironically, in its quest to revitalize its image, Shell had come full circle. Its successful "Come to Shell for Answers" campaign of the late 1970s and early '80s had been based on the same concept. Shell management worried that "Count on Shell," so close in concept to its predecessor, would seem like old news. But researchers stood firm: The idea behind the campaign-that Shell could help consumers in their lives-was critical to the company's identity. The researchers won.

The Payoff Since the campaign launch in February 1998, recall of Shell advertising has jumped to 32 percent from 20 percent among "opinion influencers," adults who've addressed a public meeting or participated in other civic activities recently. Traffic to www.countonshell.com has risen more than 18,000 percent, and a million copies of Shell's free safety brochures have been distributed.

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