Goldfish, it is generally accepted, has been one of the most
successful credit card introductions of recent years. When it was
launched in 1996, two new credit cards a day were hitting the market,
but of all those taken up by the public, one in five was a Goldfish.
The marketing effort behind the brand has also been applauded. A year
ago, the work of TBWA GGT Simons Palmer and DP&A took the top award in
the Direct Marketing Association/ Royal Mail Awards. At this year’s
awards, Goldfish took the prize again for best integrated campaign.
It is no secret that British Gas is a shareholder in the company behind
the credit card, Goldbrand Development.
But what has that involvement got to do with its core business of
The official line is that financial services has been a successful and
profitable diversification for the once-nationalised energy giant.
Others say it has been even more successful as a cunning ploy to get
round unrealistic restrictions on its marketing activities in the newly
deregulated utilities market.
Look at it in this way: as a monopoly, British Gas faced losing millions
in revenue to new competitors. Yet, the regulatory body, the Office of
Gas Supply, ruled that it could not use overt discounts or incentives,
’monopolistic’ database marketing, or loyalty schemes which might work
against its competitors.
But, as Goldfish mailshots pointed out, ’this credit card could save you
up to #75 on your British Gas bills’. The case rests, m’lud.
It’s just one example of marketing ingenuity in an industry still caught
up in civil-service thinking. In this week’s DMA/Royal Mail awards,
Judith Donovan’s Bradford agency, JDA, and its client, Norweb, won the
innovation award for finding a way round a similar problem.
Here they were up against a Data Protection Registrar ruling (since
lifted) that electricity companies moving into the gas market could not
sell their service to existing customers unless those customers had
given prior permission.
To send out a letter asking people to write back if they’d like to hear
about the new gas service would be costly and self-defeating.
So, JDA developed what it calls a ’Russian doll’ mailer, to go out with
electricity bills. In essence, the covering letter said, ’We’re putting
you on your honour. We’re enclosing a sealed envelope containing details
of how you can save money on your gas bill. If you’re interested, sign
this acknowledgment before you open it.’
This not only got round the regulation, but also proved to be a highly
effective recruitment device. Norweb had budgeted #25 for every new
contract signed, but the actual cost from this route was an amazingly
low #2.90. The response rate was 4.3 per cent against a forecast of 0.25
All this, of course, is in the context of a competitive marketplace.
About 80 companies are now battling to supply gas and/or electricity to
consumers and/or industry. Direct response ads, mailshots, telemarketing
and door-to-door calls are all being used extensively.
The advantage lies with the established suppliers, the former
state-owned companies. But they are having to learn fast about consumer
Currently, everyone is selling at least partly on price. To survive in a
market in which there will have to be rationalisation, branding and
long-term strategies will be crucial.
’A lot of people are focusing on blitzing as many consumers as
possible,’ says Richard Marshall, a director of the direct marketing
agency, Tullo Marshall Warren. ’Many electrical companies want to supply
gas and, in theory, British Gas has a lot to lose. What they have not
realised is that British Gas has been slowly exposed to increasing
competition and, just like BT before it, will have win-back strategies
in place. They will have to develop from being supply companies into
The point is acknowledged by Simon Carter, London Electricity’s head of
marketing on the residential side and a former marketer with NatWest.
’It is only in the past two years that people like me have joined the
industry to try to build brands,’ he says. ’Through research we’ve
identified the three things our brand should stand for with consumers:
competitive pricing, trustworthy and easy to do business with.’
The latest step in its campaign came in the first week of this month,
with a mailing to a million households to promote London Electricity’s
Premier service: ’Buy your gas from the same place as you buy your
electricity and you could save over #210 a year.’ Developed by the
direct marketing agency, CMB, it is aimed at users both within the
traditional London Electricity region and at very specific targets
Clearly, most suppliers want to promote the ’dual fuel’ concept, because
that’s where they can maximise their administrative savings. Scottish
Power, working with the Edinburgh-based agency, Navigator Responsive
Advertising, has adopted a fishing theme, with the line, ’How much will
you net with Scottish Power?’
Utilities, in fact, are providing much work for the direct marketing
industry. Agency examples include WWAV Rapp Collins working for British
Gas Trading to sell both gas and electricity, with Evans Hunt Scott
underpinning those messages while working for British Gas Services, the
maintenance and insurance arm. Tequila Payne Stracey has East Midlands
Electricity, while Tomahawk handles industrial business for Eastern
But it’s not just the agencies that are benefiting. The battle in the
marketplace has also brought business for companies such as the
lifestyle database specialist, Claritas, which has been monitoring
consumer attitudes in its massive surveys for the past two years.
’As consumers’ understanding has grown, they have become increasingly
interested in switching suppliers,’ says the company’s data applications
consultant, Stuart Hopwood. ’Now, the question is why - is it price or
service that interests them?
’The reality is that price plays a huge part. But at the end of the day,
companies are interested in customers who will be profitable to
It’s a question of identifying people who are likely to switch, use a
lot of electricity and gas, and are willing to pay by direct debit,
because that can be a good indication of loyalty once you’ve got them.’