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Advertising & Branding: Are Utilities Getting It Right?

Fortnightly Magazine - January 15 1998

difficult to measure the effectiveness of such advertising, he notes, but "it allows us to get into major markets across the country at a much lower cost" than to run advertising campaigns everywhere.

Edison International followed suit last September, lending its name to the renovated Anaheim Stadium, in time for the Angels to open their 1998 season. With the new name, the Edison International Field of Anaheim, the stadium will lie in "the heart of our service territory, where the bulk of our customer base" falls, according to Tom Higgins, Edison International's vice president for public relations. He won't reveal the price tag for the 20-year sponsorship, but acknowledges that it's a "terrific marketing opportunity¼ worldwide, to extend the reach of our brand. We want to build the brand so we get a competitive advantage" as the company restructures.

In November came an announcement to rename the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, home to the Penguins hockey team, the Allegheny Energy Dome. The six-year, $5-million deal marked the culmination of a long naming-rights search, a Penguins spokesman says. Last fall the arena's management company, SMG, also chose Allegheny Energy as the facility's electricity supplier as part of the state's pilot program.

Enron targeted a sports audience, but tied its image-building 1997 Superbowl ad campaign to its experience in Peterborough, N.H., in the nation's first customer choice program. Print ads in publications such as Forbes and The Wall Street Journal began that same week. For the total campaign - six months of TV ads and print ads throughout 1997 - Enron spent $25 million, Foster says.

Industry Restructuring:

A Costly Distraction

With the unexpected challenge from Enron to become the default supplier in PECO Energy's home territory, the two companies last fall became locked in a publicity war. The battle was as much to gain favor from government policymakers as to win sales from customers, and so in one sense marks a step backward - to a time when regulators functioned as the utility's true client.

The battle has left PECO on the defensive, explaining the rate-making process - and whether it is stockholders or ratepayers who fund corporate advertising. Customers have become casualties in the process, overlooked and undervalued, despite claims that it's all just marketing.

Last fall, according to spokesman Michael Wood, PECO Energy had three overlapping campaigns: (1) introducing President and CEO Corbin A. McNeill Jr. as the new chairman and positioning the utility "as more aggressive, more customer-focused and ready for competition"; (2) a two-pronged "blitz surrounding the competitive marketplace" - from a consumer education/utility perspective regarding the company's pilot program, and from their affiliates' perspective (both PECO Energy Horizon Group and PECO Energy EnergyOne), to develop brand equity; and (3) ads centering on the company's restructuring plan, the Pennsylvania Plan.

David Hackney, PECO Energy's manager of public relations, says, "Some of the feedback we're getting is that the consumers are confused. We're seeing a media blitz that the consumer was not prepared for, the tried-and-true techniques of consumer product advertising, and people are confused." As Hackney acknowledges, "It's a bit