Utility Gives Spare Appliances a Bad Name

SAN FRANCISCO Independent Venables, Bell & Partners here breaks new spots for Pacific Gas & Electric this week that aim to take the lecturing out of energy conservation messages.

Different from VBP’s last branding effort for the client, these tactical messages are about how PG&E encourages customers to save money by getting rid of energy-hogging extra appliances.

In “Bad Refrigerator,” a man in his garage gets a soda from his extra fridge, when the appliance suddenly turns on him, smacking him to the ground with its doors and taking his wallet. “That old refrigerator is taking your money,” onscreen copy reads.

The refrigerator mugging is meant to illustrate that it can cost $120 per year just to run the appliance, the agency said.

The second spot, “Water Heater,” shows a couple paying bills and discussing getting rid of their old water heater. It’s costing them a bundle, it’s old and “it smells,” the wife whispers, as if the appliance can hear her.

A crash and screeching tires are then heard, and the couple runs to the garage to see the water heater has become so offended, it busted out of its closet and drove off in the family car. The last shot shows the appliance driving down the street, making a getaway.

“Old appliances don’t just go away,” the copy reads. “Recycle.”

Rather than use a straightforward tone, VBP decided to use absurd situations to attract attention to these energy issues.

“We don’t settle for the boring way out,” said Paul Venables, agency founder and co-creative director. He said people don’t like being lectured to and PG&E did not want to come across as preaching about energy.

“We all want to be likeable, and companies are no different,” he said. “And people like personality, they like a sense of humor. This world is serious enough.”

The two spots are airing in central and northern California major markets like Fresno, Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. A fall campaign of similar messages will follow, Venables said.

PG&E, based in San Francisco, spent $13 million on ads in 2004 and $4 million from January to April 2005, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.