Forget the debate over Northern Gateway and other oil pipelines for a minute – let's talk about how energy allows your dog to take in the cool breeze as he sticks his snout out your car window.
That's one way Enbridge Inc. is seeking to shift public perception about its bruised corporate brand with a new advertising campaign aimed at skirting constant battles over pipelines and fossil fuel projects.
Enbridge, the largest transporter of Canadian crude oil, faces campaigns by numerous environmental groups and First Nations seeking to halt projects such as the $7.9-billion Northern Gateway pipeline, which would carry oil sands-derived crude to the Pacific Coast for export, and the Line 9 reversal in Ontario and Quebec.
The new marketing push, "E=", focuses on everyday ways that energy improves life, whether it's heating bath water for a newborn, making chocolate cupcakes as "guilty pleasures" or motoring along picturesque coastal highways.
In a spot called "E=doggy smiles," the narrator explains, with a blues guitar twanging in the background, that Enbridge did not say, "Hey, boy, wanna go for a ride?" or roll down the window. But it did help fuel the car the allowed pooch to gleefully put his face in the wind.
Market research has shown the public trusts nongovernmental organizations more than energy companies. The feel-good ads, according to an Enbridge presentation, are to combat that view by playing up the positive role of energy in society.
Enbridge launched the TV, digital and print campaign across Canada and in the northern U.S. markets where it operates, a day after more than 100,000 people crowded the streets of New York to call for tougher action on climate change.
"As a company and brand, we need to shift the way we communicate about our company from what we did to a more compelling reason to believe in our business, why we matter," according to the presentation.
The campaign echos recent ones from other oil-patch companies, such as Cenovus Energy Inc.'s "More than Fuel" ads and Suncor Energy Inc.'s "See What Yes Can Do" spots. All are aimed at pushing back against what the sector sees as unfair criticism that it puts profit ahead of climate and pollution concerns.
"As an industry, historically, we've been very good about telling people what we do. In the case of Enbridge, we transport crude oil, we distribute natural gas, we generate renewable energy," said Enbridge vice-president D'Arcy Levesque. "We think we can do a better job telling people why we matter."
The company is already fighting an uphill battle because it represents an industry that has been associated with tragedies such as the BP oil spill and duck deaths in the Syncrude Canada Ltd. tailings ponds, said Darren Dahl, professor of marketing and behavioural science at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business.
For its part, Enbridge spent more than $1-billion cleaning up a spill from a ruptured pipeline in Michigan in 2010.
The company faces a tough road to change perceptions in British Columbia, where its Northern Gateway application became a battleground for environmentalists and aboriginal groups seeking to stop oil sands-derived crude from being shipped across the province to the coast.
"They've been the bull's-eye for all of the extraction and energy industries. All extraction and energy come at an environmental cost and they've been the poster child for all of the anger from the opposing view. That makes it tough for Enbridge," Prof. Dahl said.
Indeed, a critic of the company's efforts to build Northern Gateway described the brand name as "toxic" in B.C. "I just don't see how this is going to change public opinion, especially in the north where Enbridge doesn't supply any of that energy. They just want to use this as a corridor," said Nikki Skuce, Smithers, B.C.-based senior energy campaigner for the environmental group ForestEthics Advocacy.
Mr. Levesque said the message is the same across Canada and in U.S. markets such as Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. "The purpose of this campaign is to help refocus the conversation around the fact that we exist to fuel people's quality of life."