Message on a hanger

Money talks.
And last summer, when the British Columbia Automobile Association (BCAA) decided to assign its in-house advertising work to an outside agency - for the first time in many years - Rethink offered up a deal the BCAA couldn't refuse.

Money talks.

And last summer, when the British Columbia Automobile Association (BCAA) decided to assign its in-house advertising work to an outside agency – for the first time in many years – Rethink offered up a deal the BCAA couldn’t refuse.

‘First and foremost, we were looking for a good pitch and they talked our language,’ says Rod Dewar, chief operating officer at the BCAA, a provincial chapter of the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). But, he adds, it was the agency’s unique business model, which refunds part of its fee if results are not reached, that sealed the deal. ‘That caught our attention.’

The challenge

Almost one in three B.C. drivers carries a BCAA membership card. But recent years have seen an encroachment on the company’s core business – its road services – by outside concerns.

‘We’re still the largest, but over the last four or five years, there’s been a lot of chipping away at that side of the business,’ says Dewar.

Credit card and insurance companies have begun forming their own relationships for roadside assistance programs with companies like Canadian Tire, he says. And, while many of the car manufacturer-based programs – think General Motors’ OnStar system – source their business to the BCAA, some outsource to other companies.

As well, while the current 715,000-strong membership roster may be loyal, it’s also somewhat stacked with older drivers.

‘They needed to get some younger blood,’ says Chris Staples, partner at Vancouver’s Rethink. The BCAA is simply not top-of-mind for that core group of 30- to 45-year-olds who have families, mortgages and responsibilities – and for which ‘peace of mind’ services are key, says Staples.

Then there’s the issue of current members not using the full scope of BCAA services. While its reputation has been built on road service programs – such as Road Assist and Battery Express (where a battery is delivered to the customer) – it’s also a significant player in the highly-competitive travel and insurance businesses. Yet, according to BCAA’s Dewar, when averaged out across the roster, each member takes advantage of just 1.6 BCAA products a year. ‘We’re looking to bring that number up.’

Thus, Rethink’s task was twofold: attract new members and then upsell new and current members on the 30 or so additional products offered under the three umbrellas of road assist, travel and insurance.

The strategy

What do you want to be famous for?

That was the challenge presented to the BCAA by Rethink, according to Dewar. While travel and insurance products are nice add-ons, it’s the core roadside emergency service – the knowledge that one won’t be stuck in the rain with a dead battery – that first compels members to join. This is where the focus of the campaign would rest. Once the membership started climbing, a direct marketing component would address the issue of adding services to each member’s list.

The first step in reminding B.C drivers about the association’s reliable service, however, was finding a name for it that would resonate. Thanks to a hodge-podge in-house strategy, for too many years product managers were responsible for their own brand message. There was little, if any, big-picture brand marketing strategy.

‘We had fallen into the trap of calling our roadside emergency services everything from ERS to Member Services,’ says Dewar.

Rethink’s first step was encouraging the BCAA to commit to a single name for the service, which would be used in all its communications. ‘Road Assist is more definitive than Member Services or Motoring Services or Emergency Road Services or any of those other variations we had over time,’ says Dewar. Road Assist was it.

The execution

‘We wanted to talk to people in an engaging way and make it clear that there’s nothing worse than having a flat tire on a rainy Vancouver day,’ says Staples.

But instead of focusing on member privileges – think American Express – the agency decided to zero in on just how unpleasant life could be without the BCAA. The work, which began running in November, was dubbed ‘The Non-Members Campaign.’

It featured three billboard executions (which were also used for subsequent newspaper advertising) that highlighted the hassles of on-the-road problems for non-members. One billboard, for example, featured an unhappy-looking woman watching as her husband struggles to unlock their car door with a clothes hanger.

Four radio spots, featuring advice for non-members – on issues ranging from anger management to survival tips in the wild – also ran on stations across the province.

‘We wanted to hit people in their cars,’ says Staples. ‘We wanted to remind people as they’re stuck in traffic on a rainy, horrible Vancouver day that this could happen to them.’

In addition, the association targeted 20,000 non-members (from an extensive BCAA database), with a direct marketing piece that featured Shout stain removal wipes for those messy roadside tire changes.

The most inventive element of the campaign, however, capitalized on a relationship Rethink arranged with central dry cleaning facilities across the province. In an unprecedented bid to take advantage of a sorely neglected medium, the association agreed to pay for the cleaners’ paper-wrapped hangers (about 11 cents each) if it could put its own message on the wrapper.

The message? How to use said wire hanger to get keys out of a locked car, of course – useful information for the non-members targeted by the campaign. The agency expects 200,000 hangers to go out across the province, starting this month.

‘We were looking for ways to distinguish ourselves,’ says Dewar. ‘We wanted to talk about things that people take for granted and connect that to Road Assist.’

The results

It’s still early days, but last October, just before the campaign kicked off, the BCAA enjoyed a new membership enrollment that was 12% higher than its business plan target. After the campaign rolled out the following month, new enrollments beat the target by an impressive 32%.

Anecdotal feedback, particularly from the 100 or so billboards, has been positive as well. ‘Clearly the recent campaign is having an impact,’ Dewar concludes, ‘we’re very pleased with the progress to date.’