Energizing ad efforts

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Amid media reports of harsh price hikes and potential blackouts this summer, Touchstone Energy Cooperatives adopts a reassuring voice in a $10 million TV, radio and print campaign launching today.

Touchstone is a national alliance of more than 590 local, customer-owned energy cooperatives and wanted to build a sense of community among its members to differentiate itself from investor-owned utilities. Bcom3 Group's Masius, a corporate, financial and business-to-business agency within the D'Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles network, won the account in February and created the campaign to fit with the inherited tagline, "The power of human connections."

TV spots feature co-op customers: a hospital, a dairy farm, and a little league field, among others. Print ads picture people such as a teacher, a factory manager and a young baseball fan to reinforce the idea that individuals make up Touchstone's electric co-ops.

"The one thing we had to guard against was making the ads too sappy," said Rebecca Tudor-Foley, managing director for Masius, New York. "Real America has a BS detector that will reject you and slam the door in your face if you're anything less than genuine."

The TV ads will air on national cable channels and Direct TV; a series of four-page editorials will run in Reader's Digest. Each of the 590 co-ops that participate in Touchstone will be able to adapt the print and radio ads for local use, although Touchstone may run a national radio campaign. Ms. Tudor-Foley called the radio spots "very timely for this summer's rolling blackouts" but said the TV commercials have a longer lifespan.

Separately, the Long Island Power Authority follows the lead of several California energy companies (AA, May 21) and launches an aggressive conservation campaign to quell the blackout fears of its 1.1 million customers. Zimmerman/Edelson, Great Neck, L.I., created the print ads, in which Uncle Sam urges Long Islanders to save electricity.

During this difficult time for energy companies, some such as Touchstone and Masius view blackouts and high energy prices as opportunities to come out on top. Ms. Tudor-Foley describes recent current events as serendipitous.

"Did it have something to do with the way we produced some of the advertising?" she asked. "You bet." Concept testing revealed the key customer concern was dependability. "We wanted to emphasize that with a not-for-profit co-op, the customer comes first. We wanted them to feel it is their co-op, that they're not victims of a faceless, profit-making corporation."

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