BC Hydro regenerates

As the utility hits the big 5-0, marketer Cynthia Dyson is keeping it youthful through experiential stunts, crafty OOH and teen-focused digital.

As BC Hydro celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, it’s gearing up for an era of rebuilding, with a slew of new infrastructure on the way, plus upgrades to existing facilities. But for these changes to go smoothly, it needs the support of the public.
“We need to enrol and engage every single British Columbian, because it will mean work in their backyards, as well as jobs and injections into the economy,” says Cynthia Dyson, director of marketing communications and brand strategy.
“When people think of BC Hydro, their bill is the first thing they think about,” she says. And the upcoming rebuild means those bills will only get higher, with the average consumer expected to see 32 percent increases over the next three years. So, as Dyson says, “We want them to be proud of and support what we’re doing.”
With help from its AOR DDB Vancouver, the utility will be rolling out an anniversary campaign this spring that shifts its branding from “BC Hydro for generations” to “BC Hydro regeneration,” which it expects to use for 18 months. The campaign will pay homage to the utility’s past province-building efforts and the work being done to ensure sufficient power for the next 50 years. The effort will entail TV, digital, print and community outreach, with media by OMD Vancouver and PR by National.
Dyson is no stranger to BC Hydro’s history: she’s been with the company for 19 years, taking on her current role two years ago.
Although getting the public to associate BC Hydro with anything other than their hydro bill is a challenge, Dyson has been able to flex her creative muscle while working on the utility’s conservation program, Power Smart. So has DDB, which has won 33 awards for its Power Smart work over the past three years (including work by Tribal DDB and Karacters). The BC Chapter of the American Marketing Association also recognized the Power Smart work by naming BC Hydro its 2009 Marketer of the Year.
“It’s almost like a sister/brother relationship,” Dyson says. “Power Smart allows us to play in a fun space because we actually need people to do something at the end of the day: we need people to change their behaviour and think about their purchasing decisions.”
Recent campaigns for Power Smart shifted focus from using less energy to using energy wisely. DDB’s fall campaign compared wasting energy to wasting other resources. One TV spot showed a child intentionally leaving the tap running all day long, and a woman taking a single bite from an apple before throwing it on the ground and biting another. It closed with the voiceover, “The most ridiculous thing about wasting power is that, for some reason, we don’t think it’s ridiculous.” Print showed consumers wasting everything from ketchup to dog kibble.

The Power Smart branding has been in market since 1989, which is why it has lots of traction, Dyson says. As an example of its effectiveness, she points out that since 2007, Power Smart has delivered more than $150 million in bill savings. 
“I hate to say it, but it’s got better brand awareness than the BC Hydro brand, and better affinity [from] customers,” she says.
That affinity probably has a lot to do with Power Smart’s memorable stunts.
Last October, BC Hydro kicked off Power Smart Month with a stunt in downtown Vancouver that saw two actors living inside shipping containers at the busy corner of Georgia and Granville for a week. The spaces were furnished to resemble condos, each with a living room and kitchen area that included a refrigerator, computer and TV.
Although the living spaces were identical, the actors’ behaviours weren’t: one was wasteful in his power use, while the other was efficient, and digital counters on the outside of the boxes revealed the difference in energy consumption.
To ensure a waste-free stunt, the appliances were borrowed from retail partners like London Drugs, and other items from inside the “condos” were donated to charity at the end of the week.
Organized by Vancouver-based experiential agency Smak, the stunt garnered attention from passersby and media alike.
“I think people got it,” Dyson says. “It was an easy way to look at the difference in terms of lifestyle [and] the reaction was great.”
Other Power Smart Month executions practiced what they preached: a rotating billboard stating “Unplug things when you’re not using them” was kept static, with a giant plug dangling from the side to drive the message home; a transit shelter ad with the copy “Turn off lights when you’re not using them” was equipped with a motion sensor, so that it only glowed when someone was nearby. Each execution saved over 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Over the holidays, the utility did Christmas light home makeovers in several B.C. communities, knocking on unsuspecting customers’ doors, offering to replace their old Christmas lights with energy-efficient LED ones and creating YouTube videos to document the results.
And the utility had a big presence at the Vancouver Olympics last year, creating a Power Smart Village that included a Home of the
Future (featuring GE appliances with intelligent energy-use features) and a “sustainable dance floor” that converted people’s fancy footwork into energy that made the floor glow.
“It was a technology developed in Holland, so we brought it out here for the Olympics and Paralympics,” Dyson says. “If enough people are bouncing up and down, it creates enough energy to keep the dance floor lit.”
With Tribal DDB and Radar DDB helping raise awareness through a microsite and social media, the Power Smart Village gave BC Hydro non-bill related visibility in a central location for six weeks. And the success of features like the dance floor taught Dyson a key lesson: “It’s all about the hook.”
While the dance floor was a draw for little kids and their parents, BC Hydro has been reaching out to teens with another type of creative expression. Its annual fall/winter “Invent The Future” campaign, executed with help from Vancouver-based Hangar 18, centres on a contest that asks 16- to 24-year-olds to write an essay, create a video or (new this year) write and record a song about conservation and energy, and then upload it to Inventthefuture.ca.
Because of its youth focus, the campaign is promoted almost exclusively via social media. “What we say about it is, if adults never hear about it, it’s great,” Dyson says.
This year, celebrity judge Kristin Kreuk (a Vancouver-born actress best known for her role on Smallville) helped generate online buzz by posting a YouTube video encouraging people to participate, which got nearly 25,000 hits.
About 130 contestants submitted creative work, while over 6,600 visitors pledged to be smart with their power for the chance to win a Mountain Equipment Co-op gift card.
The six grand prize winners of a week at Gulf Islands Film School were decided by a panel of judges, but visitors to the site could also vote for their favourite entry, with retail partner Best Buy providing a “People’s Choice” award comprised of an iPod Touch, a docking station and a $100 gift card.
Beyond befriending youth online, BC Hydro has discovered that even small incentives can go a long way towards winning new friends and, with any luck, influencing people of all ages. In the lead-up to Power Smart Month, the utility did a social media growth campaign with DDB Canada and Radar DDB that gave a big boost to its number of Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers – with a little help from one of its retail partners.
“We did it by offering $5 London Drugs coupons,” Dyson says. “Be our fan, get to know us and get $5 to use towards energy efficient products.”
At press time, BC Hydro had 7,788 “likes” on Facebook. Not bad for a utility company with a high-profile rate increase on the way.


Born: Nanaimo, BC. Nov. 30, 1967
Education: Communications and political science, Simon Fraser University
Career: Dyson started out in corporate communications, working at Vancouver Coastal Health and Overwaitea Food Group before taking on an internal communications role at BC Hydro. During her 19 years at the utility, she’s worked in departments such as corporate communications, community relations, the corporate sustainability and corporate environmental group, and public consultation and communications. She took on her current role of director of marketing communications and brand strategy two years ago.