SWALEC Case Study

How regional press helped an energy supplier generate increased custom and record-breaking profile ratings

Deregulation of the domestic electricity market commenced in September 1998, meaning that all existing regional electricity companies (RECs) now faced direct competition from other suppliers. This case study looks at how one of the RECs made full use of the power of local press to protect their key customer base and double their recognition scores.


Deregulation of the gas and electricity markets proved a confusing issue for consumers. Coming to terms with being able to purchase your gas and electricity from alternative suppliers other than British Gas or your host regional electricity company – without needing to install new meters, pipes, wires, etc – was a difficult concept to communicate.

That said, the initial deregulation of the gas market in 1997 proved very successful for one energy supplier – SWALEC. A concerted effort of advertising and direct sales enabled this company to attract over 350,000 new customers in Wales alone.

The real challenge, however, came in 1999 when, following the deregulation of the electricity market, SWALEC’s task was to defend their new gas customers, as well as their existing electricity customers – in total over a million households.

The Campaign Strategy

SWALEC wanted to draw upon their Welsh heritage, yet at the same time they had no desire to appear parochial.

Their advertising agency, Golley Slater, arrived at a highly compelling, impactful, engaging and very different creative solution for this normally very conservative market. In emphasising that SWALEC is devoted to its consumers in Wales, the agency selected the former hard-man of soccer turned film actor, Vinnie Jones, to front the ads.

Drawing upon Vinnie Jones’ questionable Welsh roots (he was born in Watford and played football for the Welsh national team by virtue of the fact that his grandfather was Welsh), the campaign stressed that the benefits of living in Wales – and therefore being able to purchase best value gas and electricity from SWALEC – were clearly unobtainable to Vinnie.

The agency arrived at a creative platform of “Vinnie doesn’t live here anymore – so, no cheap gas and electricity for him!”

The Media Strategy

The £1m campaign, planned and bought by Golley Slater in Cardiff, focused on creating serious impact in its highly defensive position during what was forecast to be a fiercely competitive year in the energy market.

Kicking off with television and outdoor, the premise of “Best value energy – but only if you live in Wales” began in February 1999. This was quickly underpinned by the extensive use of regional press, using all of the major titles in key areas across the region.

Through the regional press, the campaign was able to communicate in much greater detail the benefits of purchasing gas and electricity from SWALEC. This also enabled them to use a coupon response mechanism to handle any direct enquiries.

In addition, Golley Slater planned obscure sizes (for example, 56×2 column space with rotated copy) which helped them achieve a high degree of standout without having to pay for a full page or page dominant space. Further, by adopting this strategy, they were able to maintain their presence within the medium for practically the whole year, thereby adding frequency and extending the campaign period in the face of competitive activity, particularly from national advertisers.

“Regional press in Wales provided us with a significant further strand to our communications programme, enabling us to build frequency and cover within very tightly defined geographical parameters.”
Sue Hendry, head of media – Golley Slater

The Results

Given this was principally a defensive strategy, SWALEC have been one of the most successful RECs in retaining their new gas customers and their existing electricity customers.

“This campaign has been an enormous success story. We were very fortunate to have a client with the foresight to embark on such an ambitious programme using such a controversial character as Vinnie Jones.”
Michael Leeson, Managing Director – Golley Slater

In order to track the campaign performance, SWALEC commissioned the London-based research agency BJM to monitor the advertising effectiveness of the campaign.

Awareness of SWALEC as an energy provider in Wales reached 93% and sustained that level throughout the year. Advertising awareness doubled from a pre-campaign recognition figure of 43% to over 80% in just four weeks and – with the continued regional press activity – maintained a level of around 84% for the rest of the year.

More importantly, however, the percentage of consumers who expressed a preference for SWALEC as their supplier increased from 51% prior to the campaign to 74% after 10 weeks.

“The profile of SWALEC has shifted enormously in the last 12 months, which has been due to a combination of excellent creative work and very tight media planning and buying. Regional press has certainly helped us in building our relationships at a local level with our customers in Wales.”
Ewan McConnell, Head of Marketing – SWALEC