PowerWise: amp up the action

David Suzuki's commitment to the environment now includes sneaking into homes armed with a caulking gun to combat 'draft dodgers.' That scenario is played out in the latest spot from the Ontario Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure's campaign for PowerWise.

David Suzuki’s commitment to the environment now includes sneaking into homes armed with a caulking gun to combat ‘draft dodgers.’ That scenario is played out in the latest spot from the Ontario Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure’s campaign for PowerWise.

The ‘You Have the Power’ effort was developed by Toronto-based Allard Johnson, and spans TV, transit shelter, exterior bus card, superboard, ethnic newspaper and internet banner ads featuring Suzuki informing Ontarians (in a humorous fashion) about things they can do in their everyday lives to save energy.

‘The strategy has been to bring energy conservation awareness to the people of Ontario in an approachable and friendly manner,’ says Kevin Powers, director of communications at the Ontario Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, ‘and give them quick and easy-to-implement ways that they can help reduce their electricity consumption.’ The campaign kicked off in 2006, with Suzuki volunteering his services in 2007, and his role has become much more whimsical of late.

The creative drives people to Powerwise.ca, where they can not only take a look at Suzuki’s video tips for conserving energy, but also sign up to join the cause and share their own suggestions. The website has amassed 3,171 registered users that have found 537 ways to conserve energy.

We asked founder and CEO of the Summerhill Group and green initiative expert Ian Morton, and Wendie Scott Davis, VP and CD at Gilbert + Davis Communications, who has experience with cause campaigns and changing behaviours, to tell us if PowerWise has the power to get more Ontarians seeing green.


Scott Davis: The overall strategy was initially a good one. I think that keeping the required actions simple was the right way to go. Keeping the message light and friendly and making David more approachable were also good decisions.

Morton: The conservation marketing strategy in general seems fuzzy to me. I’m not sure what they are trying to achieve. If the goal was to create a ‘culture of conversation’ then this campaign has failed. Inspiring through humour is good as a base awareness, but I think it’s time we move beyond awareness, raising to investing in efforts that change behaviour.


Scott Davis: David is a good spokesperson and is certainly at the forefront of conservation messaging. The campaign does portray him as very human and approachable in all elements. His tips on the website are simple, useful and easy to act on. I’m not sure that his involvement or the campaign has kept pace with the increase of consumer awareness. PowerWise needs to stand out from the crowd.

Morton: Suzuki is recognizable and is a good fit, but it could have been so much better if the campaign was designed not to get the message out, but to get change to take place.


Scott Davis: The early spots were effective because they were simple. As the spots evolved, I thought the simple acts got a bit lost in the complex executions. The early executions focused not only on the act, but the results of acting – energy to light a city, money to buy more beer. The later spots didn’t do that. With respect to the website, although the URL was displayed in all executions, there didn’t seem to be a sense of urgency or compelling reason to go there.

Morton: Billboards that say ‘PowerWise’ or ‘Every Kilowatt Counts’ (EKC) mean nothing and do not translate into action. If they really wanted to have people use compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), they’d engage them where/when they are making a decision. They should have taken the money invested in ads and given every Ontarian the equivalent in free CFLs at their local retailer.


Scott Davis: The awareness-building strategy needs to move to the next phase, taking consumers to the next level of involvement. ‘You Have the Power’ is a double-edged tagline. The intent is to convey we have the power to change, but it implies limitless power. It is passive and doesn’t tell people what is expected of them. When you compare the sign ups at PowerWise versus One Million Acts of Green (see p. 34), it would appear that the community tools haven’t been as successful as they could be.

Morton: You have PowerWise, EKC, individual utility programs and not-for-profit community-based campaigns and none of them are knitted together. There were TV ads out for weeks with Suzuki going through someone’s beer fridge. At the same time, the Ontario Power Authority launched a Refrigerator Roundup program with no call to action. For the money spent, you could drive people to retail stores using engagement and retirement programs to get people to act.