PERU SPARKS OBSESSION WITH SAVING ELECTRICITY

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The message scrolls across the TV screen during prime-time: "Turn off any excess light. We are reaching peak energy demand."

Electrical systems in Peru and other South American countries have been overburdened as economic growth increases electricity demands-while consumers show little concern for conservation.

A year ago, Peru warned of a possible rationing by August 1995. Then Cenergia, a consortium of manufacturers, energy companies and the government, launched a $3 million awareness campaign.

Created by Forum & Forum, Lima, the campaign motivated consumers to save 150 megawatts of electricity a day-the output of a thermoelectric power plant.

Blackouts in Peru once meant the Shining Path terrorist group was on the rampage. Now, they're a side effect of a rampaging economy: Peru's gross domestic product grew 8% in 1995 and 13% in 1994.

Rising energy demand threatens to exhaust the capacity of state-owned generating stations across the North-Central power grid, supplying 80% of Peru.

When the TV spots broke last April, energy demand was growing at an average rate of 15% a year-a rate that would have depleted power in four months.

"It was evident that rationing would have to take place if home users did not change their energy consumption conduct," said Luis Durand, a Cenergia account executive at Forum & Forum.

These conditions led to paid ads and public service announcements, themed "Light we save, light we give," to convince consumers to cut use.

Once consumers understood recovery could be curtailed if the factories were left without power, they responded.

The ads ran evenings, when the North-Central grid ran near 100%, creating a sense of emergency that obligated public response.

The agency also created the Megamometer, a graphic measuring megawatts in weekend papers. The ad displayed messages like, "You've got to keep trying! It is enough to turn off just one light."

Marketing studies later showed that 100% of interviewees familiar with the campaign remembered the inserts. "It was a way to be creative with media selection. We traded ad buys for inserts and gave the campaign a public service feel," Mr. Durand said.

Even more remarkable is the region's traditional energy waste. In Peru, government subsidies that made electricity a near-giveaway spurred inefficient habits; at one point, electrical bills only represented 4% of actual generating costs, and the state picked up the rest. Factories didn't enter power costs into their budgets.

Privatization of Peru's electrical distribution network also meant long-subsidized rates doubled in 12 months to reflect real costs. Residents would have had to turn off all their lights to save money under those conditions.

This campaign is becoming a model throughout the region.

In Venezuela, where low energy prices and limited public awareness of conservation have threatened supplies, a month-long public opinion survey of electricity and tariffs that began in February will result in a TV and print campaign advocating less energy consumption, said Armando Melean, general director of energy at the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

The ministry last month began airing conservation messages as part of a new $1.5 million TV, radio and educational collateral campaign. The year-long effort by Michel Arnau & Cia, Medell¡n, is themed "So that Colombia doesn't turn off, save energy." The campaign follows a similar effort in 1995 from Perez y Villa.

Colombia began promoting conservation after electricity shortages in 1992 caused daily blackouts of up to four hours.

Mines and Energy Minister Rodrigo Villamizar warns that more rationing could come by the end of 1996 if less-than-normal rainfall continues.

The ads, produced in Miami, show images of waterfalls and pristine rivers, then cut to a desert and scenes of erosion-a direct link from power consumption to environmental damage.

Contributing to this story: Sophie Hares, Caracas; Patti Lane, Bogot .

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