Utility battle resurrects Leisure's liar ad role

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Peco Energy Co. has enlisted actor David Leisure, who made his mark in advertising as the lying Joe Isuzu, to help stave off Houston-based Enron Corp. in a battle for Philadelphia electric utility customers.

The Philadelphia utility has put Mr. Leisure back in the role of an untruthful ad spokesman, this time for an unnamed Texas utility. Some of the minds that created the original ad character are involved in Mr. Leisure's return.

Enron is leading the charge against local suppliers like Peco, with nationwide campaigns as well as state-specific efforts in hot spots like Pennsylvania and California.

PROMOTING DISCOUNTS

Enron is promoting its proposed 20%-off rates, deliberately topping Peco's proposed 10% discount. The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission is looking at both plans and will make rulings at the end of this month.

Enron is already running advertising in the Philadelphia market created by Ogilvy & Mather's Conquest unit, New York, and Neiman & May, Harrisburg, Pa.

Peco created four spots starring Mr. Leisure, who played the infamous liar Joe Isuzu in the late 1980s campaign for American Isuzu Motors created by Della Femina, McNamee & Partners, Los Angeles.

Peco's campaign is from Tierney & Partners, Philadelphia. Mr. Leisure was introduced to Peco by Tierney Senior Creative Officer Rich Russo, who was creative director on the Della Femina team. The director of the Peco spots, Ron Travisano, also directed some of the original Joe Isuzu ads.

The first two 30-second David Leisure spots began running two weeks ago. The first shows Mr. Leisure looking for spokesman work with an unnamed Texas energy company. The executives are impressed with his lying ability and hire him.

The second commercial continues with Mr. Leisure dressed in ridiculous cowboy attire and making outrageous promises to potential electric consumers.

Both Peco's and Enron's budgets are undisclosed. But industry watchers expect marketing spending in the $200 billion electric utilities industry to range from $2 billion to $4 billion per year as deregulation continues, rivaling and even surpassing telecommunications industry spending."Enron is really aggressive. That's obvious and clear and they're not likely to stop," said John Cole, VP of Cambridge Reports. "This is the beginning of a trend where, at the very least, we'll see an exponential increase in advertising campaign spending."

Deregulation is expected to spark similar Enron/Peco battles nationwide as new entrants try to lure customers away from incumbents. That, in turn, will create even more opportunities for ad agency work.

"The real interesting part is that regional companies will be spending $5 million to $15 million to establish themselves, which will begin to happen as they go through their cultural changes. This is unheard-of money for them," Mr. Cole said. "I think we're poised at the top of the [utility advertising] hill and soon we'll be at critical mass. When the ball starts to roll, the money will be incredible."

Copyright November 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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