Last week the Promotional Marketing Association (PMA) held its annual Integrated Marketing Conference in Chicago at the Downtown Marriott. My background is in promotional marketing so I’ve been a member of PMA for quite some time and was invited back this year to write about it.
We were treated to a presentation by Ann Hand who is the former SVP Global Brand Marketing and Innovation for BP. Ann shared with us a really great story of how this brand made an emotional connection with its customers on a global level by fulfilling its promise to make things "a little better" for them. The new Helios Power retail brand campaign was originally launched just a year ago and soon will be integral to BP's 25,000 retail locations worldwide.
Now Ann was one of a handful of women who had risen to the top ranks in the energy industry, mostly dominated by males. She served as the driving force behind this new consumer brand initiative and it really shows that a woman was behind it because its clearly is marketing to woman on a global scale.
The strategy behind this campaign came from customer insights that said that they really don't expect much from their gas station experience, so a little better can mean a lot. Ann said "A little better is something that only BP could say – it’s humble, we know it’s just a start, but it will mean a lot to our customers and staff. People see refueling as a necessary and unpleasant chore. However, BP can be cleaner and friendlier, and that’s why people will chose us rather than our competitors."
First they created the new BP Helios Power logo which was inspired by the image of a sunflower, representing their commitment to more environmental ways of producing energy. Then they worked with their agency, Ogilvy & Mather, to really get creative and improve the total look and feel of their stations to become new, bold, real and green.
Customers were now getting ‘a little better’ by noticing:
- The replacement of plastic shopping bags with recyclable paper shopping bags with bright Helios Power graphics. Ann said all of us women love to save shopping bags that we like, so they starting to see this trend happening with the Helios bags.
- Renewed customer service initiatives such as cleaning sites (particularly rest rooms), greeting people with a smile and keeping sites stocked. Ann was to become know within the company as the toilet lady because she was so focused on keeping the restrooms clean and had actually changed the woman's restroom sign on the door to include a figure with her arms up in the air vs. the traditional sign where her arms are down. I have to get me one of these!
- Various giveaway promotional materials, which are environmentally friendly such as packets of sunflower seeds that included tips on how to lower gas emissions, kids activity books called Say Hey Backseat Driver that they could do in the car, and for one promotion they took the idea of giving every woman customer a rose and changed it into a small green plant instead to keep it green.
Next was the creation of the new advertising campaign which include animated characters along with a catchy tune for the TV and radio ads. Burt, his dog Jackson, the Lighthouse Family and the Babies (Abby, Michael, Frankie and Sal) are shown visiting 'a little better gas station". Ann shared with us a series of three TV ads, with the favorite being "Babies"....A baby drives a car, with three other babies as his passengers. The babies are singing the tune as its played in the spot and then notice the car's fuel gauge nearing "empty," so they look for a gas station. The generic stations they pass appear dark and foreboding, but then they see a BP station. It's bright and welcoming. The babies fuel up and hit the road again. "Gas stations, a little better, baby," reads the tagline.
BP is spending about $35 million on this worldwide campaign and started rolling it out last year in the US, New Zealand and the Netherlands. Other major gas-station chains also run ads and Ann referred to these as "macho" type ads which are mostly about high-performance fuel, with "animals racing through the forest."
Now these days consumers are looking for the gas station that has the lowest price and will even drive out of their way to get there. Ann acknowledged that industry research says people choose stations mostly because of location or price, but adds that BP's tracking studies show some brand awareness does exist. "This campaign is the next step," she says. "Can we build more brand loyalty? Would you cut across traffic, or go a block out of your way?"
Unfortunately there are no BP gas stations in and around Rochester, NY. The closest I could find was about 25 miles away. But next time I do some traveling and see one, I'm going to make a point of stopping.
So far And was able to share with us these results:
- 86% said that "making gas stations a little better" was an appealing message
- 92% believed BP stations could be a little better
- 67% felt more favorably toward the corporate brand after seeing the campaign
- 87% on-site execution of their stations, their highest ever
- 13 million have people played their Gas Mania Online gas
BP has created the alittlebettergasstation.com website where consumers can watch the TV ads, download fun video clips, screen savers, and ringtones, as well as play the online ‘Gas Mania’ game with a chance to win prizes including BP Gas cards a Ford Edge vehicle.
BP recently picked one site in Los Angeles to become the Helios House, a "living laboratory" that uses green, eco-friendly innovations to give consumers a little better station experience. Check it out on BP's website and if you're in the area of Olympic and Robertson, just outside of Beverly Hills, you can't miss it. BP hopes to soon roll-out more of these at different locations.
Ann is no longer with the company and is looking for her next great challenge right now. She said that after launching this campaign on a global level she felt that she had achieved everything that she could at the company. So I hope we see more of Ann's hand in future marketing initiatives for other companies soon. I'll be keeping an eye out for her.