British Gas says goodbye to Wilbur the penguin as it overhauls brand positioning

British Gas says its new marketing campaign is a “seismic shift” as it looks to shift consumer perceptions, as well as drive reappraisal and consideration.

British Gas is launching a marketing campaign that it says marks a “seismic shift” as it looks to move away from perceptions of the brand as ‘just’ an energy supplier and boost consideration.

The shift sees British Gas say goodbye to Wilbur the penguin, who has been its brand mascot for the past five years. It is also ditching the animated CGI animals that have formed the backbone of its creative platform for more than a decade.

Instead, British Gas is hoping to show that it understands people’s lives through a new brand positioning ‘Here to solve’. It aims to promote British Gas products and services, such as HomeCare cover and boiler installation, to reinforce that it offers more than just energy.

“When your boiler breaks down you don’t need a penguin, you need one of our engineers,” British Gas’s marketing director Jill Dougan tells Marketing Week. “Wilbur has been fantastic for the brand, he brought that warmth and humour but [we are thinking about] trying to show up as a more modern, relevant, British brand.

“The rationale behind repositioning the brand is we need to connect with our existing consumers, but we need to drive reappraisal and consideration with a whole new set of audiences.”

When your boiler breaks down you don’t need a penguin, you need one of our engineers.

Jill Dougan, British Gas

The new campaign aims to build a deeper emotional connection with audiences and show the wider benefits of British Gas. While the company has spoken about its products and services before, Dougan admits this has not always been done from the point of view of the customer.

That is why in two TV spots British Gas is using real families and real British Gas engineers. The first ad focuses on the bathroom and the second on the kitchen, showing the impacts a broken boiler, a blown fuse box or leak can have on people’s lives. It is also shot in a very different way, using a ‘point-of-view’ shot to make the customer’s experience the focus.

“The whole rationale behind the campaign is trying to show people we understand the pressures and complexity of modern-day life,” explains Dougan. “We are trying to get across that we are not that big energy company, actually we are just there to make your life run more smoothly.”

More than a campaign slogan

The campaign will run across the full media mix, including TV, video-on-demand, outdoor, press, cinema and digital until the end of April. Much of the creative will be dynamically tailored, so on the outdoor for example the messaging will change to reflect the time of day or day of the week.

Here to solve will form the basis of all marketing and communications from British Gas, whether that is its advertising, direct communications or an engineer visit. That does not just mean sticking the Here to solve line at the bottom of a letter to customers, but rethinking how it communicates.

British Gas
British Gas’s new marketing campaign shows how families use the bathroom and the impact it can have when things go wrong

It is also being used as a “strong rallying call” for people working at British Gas, giving them a simple message to get behind whether they work in product, in a call centre or as an engineer.

“We are not just going out there with a campaign slogan, this is about how we interact with customers, and our products and propositions,” says Dougan.

“Everything we do has to start with the customer lens; what problem are we here to solve for our customers? We are confident it is not just a campaign line, but it will define who we are and what we do.”

Dougan admits that as a brand British Gas has been “very good” at talking to its own customers, but has been less focused on talking to consumers generally. That’s why data and insight is at the heart of the campaign, enabling the company to get “under the skin of customer problems”. That means rather than talking about a boiler breaking down, British Gas will talk about the impact that has on people’s day when they cannot take a shower.

Driving marketing effectiveness

A key metric for British Gas will be consideration, as well as brand NPS. It also expects to see an uptick in sales as it promotes products and services people might not know it offers, and hopes it can bring pride back into its workforce after a tough few years in the energy sector.

British Gas has its own econometrics team and so the effectiveness of the media spend will be tracked and tied back to commercial ROI.

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This is also the first major campaign since the introduction of its ‘Nucleus’ agency model, which was built specifically for British Gas’s owner Centrica and integrates people from agencies including The&Partnership, MediaCom, WundermanThompson and BCW.

While it was only set up a few months ago, Dougan says the company is already seeing the benefits in terms of a faster planning process and greater trust, as well as better sharing of insights across Centrica’s brand both in the UK and globally.

British Gas is also working more as one team internally, rather than thinking separately about energy and services.

“We have come a long way. There is still lots more work to be done but [this campaign] causes people to sit up and notice us again, which has probably been lacking,” Dougan concludes.

“We are going through a huge amount of transformation in the business and this is the start of that and a rallying cry everyone can get behind.”

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