Re-Energized? - Hollie Shaw, Financial Post · May 27, 2011 | Last Updated: May 27, 2011 9:44 AM ET
The Energizer Bunny is still pounding away at his drum, but these days his musical score may sound a little bit more upbeat than it did in the past.
After 20 years, Energizer Battery Co. has changed its popular "keep going" tag line to one that embraces an uplifting, planet-helping message that multiple brands seem to be embracing these days: "Now that's positivenergy."
Energizer Canada has kicked off the campaign with the aid of Canadian ad agency TBWA, launching an online pledge campaign rallying consumers to "pay it forward" with acts of kindness, urging people to "Do Something Little. Help Something Big." The battery maker also donated $100,000 to the non-profit group Evergreen to help support energy conservation and create more green spaces across the country.
Point-of-sale and print ads will direct consumers online to www. nowthatspositivenergy.ca, where they can take an online pledge to do a positive act, which will automatically send a $1 donation from Energizer to Evergreen. Cinema ads will follow.
Among the positive pay-it-forward pledges offered on the website: "I will clean up litter in my neighbourhood park," "I will unplug cellphone chargers and computers when they are not in use," as well as "I will let the car merge in front of me," "I will tell my kids how much I love them" and "I will greet a person in the elevator."
Kent Hatton, brand group director at Energizer Canada Inc., said the new marketing platform came out of research that suggested consumers were feeling a greater sense of environmental and social responsibility than they have in the past.
"The emotional side of why people need power is to enable their devices to get them through the day, communicating and sharing with others," he explained. "We think it was natural evolution ... the coupling of performance and responsibility."
In the United States, ads for the company's Ultimate Lithium batteries focus on nature and energy conservation, but still feature an appearance by the classic Energizer Bunny.
The campaign taps into a spirit of do-gooding embraced by companies from PepsiCo Inc. to Volkswagen AG in recent campaigns, as well as the social-cause business incubator, Common, started by advertising guru Alex Bogusky -all of them efforts promoting the notion that doing good for the environment and the community is as beneficial for the person who acts kindly as it is for the recipient.
In the case of Pepsi, its Refresh Everything campaign donated money to the best world-improving social, environmental and community ideas that were submitted to and promoted within a social media contest. Volkswagen, as part of its Think Blue campaign to market its environmentally friendlier technologies and vehicles, created ads aimed at showing consumers how small acts to help the environment can be very beneficial.
But what do Energizer batteries, the bulk of which sold are used to power children's toys, have to do with making the world a better place? Moreover, how exactly does the raucous, sunglasses-wearing bunny fit in to that message?
"When we look at consumer themes and underlying universal truths, the Energizer Bunny is very well-positioned to be a sign of optimism and hope because he stands for positive energy," Mr. Hatton said. "As we build our business beyond batteries into portable power, we want to promote the fact that we are a source of positive energy. A positive message is what we feel the world needs right now."
Batteries in devices or toys account for 88% to 90% of revenue at Energizer, but that is likely to change as the battery maker diversifies its product mix into such power-generating items as inductive pads that charge portable reading devices, laptops and smartphones and hybrid lighting products for which solar energy is a secondary source. One such flashlight features a crank that you can hand wind to light it up, or it can be charged with two hours of sun exposure.
"Energizer produced the world's first zero-mercury alkaline battery in 1991," Mr. Hatton said. "I think [the brand's positioning] is about the fit between sustainability, environmental impact and innovation. We have a history in portable lighting. We are now prospecting in [products such as] night lights, area lighting, task lighting like little lamps, cabinet lights, closet lights and accent lighting."
New and emerging products will account for 20% in coming years, he predicts.
Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto, said Energizer's new messaging may tap into a certain millennial zeitgeist, but also runs the risk of being too obscure for the brand.
"When you get a brand icon as effective as the bunny with its old slogan, using the bunny [in new ad executions] brings back the old slogan and positioning, not the new one," he said. "It will take money and time to associate Energizer with this new positioning and the strength of that bunny could block the new positioning from getting across. The second problem is that 'positive energy' is a much softer, mushier message. 'It keeps going and going' might have annoyed some people over the years, but it really stuck. This is a more abstract, cerebral concept. And those don't usually work in advertising -they either get dramatically misunderstood or ignored."