American Electric's largest-ever push is the culmination of its yearlong effort to develop a new corporate vision. The print campaign-the first work from Digitas, Boston-reflects American Electric's evolution from a Midwest utility to a $63 billion global entity also participating in the wholesale market, where energy is provided to corporate users and traded as a commodity.
While readying its new image, American Electric witnessed California's energy crisis and Enron's collapse, which cast a shadow over power players but made American Electric the No. 1 energy trader and the No. 2 gas trader by volume in North America. At the same time, deregulation and the growth of the wholesale energy market have made advertising-once rare in the energy sector-more critical. "I think electric companies are perceiving a need to build their own brands," said a spokesman for trade association Edison Electric Institute.
The recent debacles only encouraged American Electric's effort. "It reinforced the need for us to get out there and differentiate ourselves, not only to say what we are but to say what we're not," said Nicholas Ashooh, senior VP-corporate communications in charge of corporate advertising at American Electric. "The timing turned out to be serendipitous."
Although the Edison spokesman stressed that Enron's problems were accounting issues, not energy issues, he acknowledged consumers' fear of energy concerns. "People recognize Enron as a very large energy trade, so I think we have some work to do [to convey] that all these other companies, like [American Electric] are not like Enron."
"We want to cast ourselves in a new light as a progressive, strong, flexible and integrated company," Mr. Ashooh said. That flexibility is personified by the acrobatics of Cirque du Soleil, whose performers are featured in ads for American Electric, which is also sponsoring the group's North American tour-an un- usually sexy partnership in the once-considered stodgy utilities sector.
"[They're] wowing the audience with incredible configurations in the human space, and that's what [American Electric] does in the energy world," said Chip Reingold, Digitas group creative director. "You have to boil it down to a base level so the audience can understand it."
Five executions targeting the investor community and large-scale, wholesale energy customers will run in business magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, McGraw-Hill's Business Week, and Dow Jones' The Wall Street Journal.