British Gas Sponsorship of British Swimming
Winner, Hollis Sponsorship Awards, 2010
Campaign Mission Statement
British Gas was finding customer retention increasingly difficult and the majority of its 12m+ customers were 'detractors'. Net Promoter Scores (NPS) measure customers’ willingness to recommend a brand. British Gas’ goal was to have the sector’s best NPS score. But with NPS languishing in third place, the task was gargantuan. In 2009, with that huge challenge in mind, British Gas set out to become the first ever sponsor of British Swimming and turn around the perception of their brand.
By the end of 2010, they had not only smashed their target to have the highest NPS score of any UK energy supplier but were on a revolutionary journey to take their sponsorship to a whole new level.
Carat insight showed that 88% of British Gas’ brand perceptions were driven by customer experiences rather than communications (12%)1. These experiences were mostly sporadic and mainly negative (e.g. boiler breakdowns and quarterly bills). Bad brand experiences were strangling customer retention but with traditional communications we were powerless to act.
Advertising alone was not enough, we needed a bold change in strategy. We recommended the biggest marketing-strategy shift in sector history. Our idea was to create real, positive customer experiences to balance the negatives and drive up NPS. We convinced British Gas to cut many millions of pounds (£15m was the initial, publicly-released headline figure excluding all activation) from their long-established brand ads and invest in something new and untested: the largest, longest and most-extensive association with swimming ever.
Why swimming? 'Alpha Mums' and 'Weekend Dads' were the target2. These 2m household decision makers were negative about British Gas and likely to switch suppliers. To change perceptions of British Gas, we needed to associate ourselves but also add value to something enjoyable and integral to their lives. Swimming had Scale (as Britain’s most-popular participation sport); Suitability (as the National Curriculum’s only sport, it was most-embedded in the homes of our family audience); Appeal (50% of British Gas customers already swam and 63% would miss their pool more than any other leisure facility if it closed); and Synergy (1-in-3 pools were threatened with closure, but British Gas could help them by advising on how to cut their single biggest cost – the energy bill).
In 2009 the British Gas British Swimming partnership was born. Huge success was achieved in year one (+10% awareness scores in 10 months), and British Gas was on its way to imbedding their brand into the heart of the sport and their consumers.
Objectives and solutions
Several overarching objectives were identified at the beginning of the partnership; and these continue to evolve to drive the sponsorship forward, setting out clear measurable objectives which are aligned with their overall business strategy:
- Increase awareness for British Gas’ involvement in Swimming – promoted awareness target of 10%
- Drive positive customer experience - Get more customers swimming to drive interest and sustained involvement in the sport.
- Create a heart of the nation brand for British Gas by changing customer perceptions and improve overall brand likeability with a specific focus on brand attributes; ‘modernity’, ‘community’ and ‘being British’.
- Demonstrate a positive impact on British Gas’ NPS – shift from 3rd to 1st in the utility sector.
Execution and exploitation
British Gas's involvement in swimming and aquatic sport has huge scope across many touch points and we decided British Gas should be involved all the way from 'paddling pool to podium'. How best to activate the opportunities was the next challenge:
1) Made British Gas Principal Partner of British Swimming, the ASA, Scottish Swimming and Swim Wales for six years across all aquatic disciplines.
- British Gas marketer seconded full-time to their marketing team to build this relationship from within.
2) Delivered 1 million swims to existing customers through the biggest ever customer proposition; The British Gas ‘3 Free Swim’ campaign, in addition to the 300,000 swims given away in ‘Free Family Swim’ campaign in 2009.
- Teamed-up with over 1,000 UK pools to launch campaign
- Created positive affinity with our target audience through celebrity involvement by Nell McAndrew, Penny Lancaster and Rebecca Adlington.
- Leveraged through-the-line (TTL) media and direct customer interaction via British Gas call centre staff and engineers.
3) Sponsorship of British Gas Pools 4 Schools™ programme, supporting the National Curriculum by providing temporary swimming facilities for disadvantaged communities
- Overall taught 20,000 children to swim
- Gave tangible experiences back to the local communities
4) Continued to sponsor the annual British Gas Great Swim Series – the biggest open water series in the UK
- 20,000 swimming in open water across two series in the North, East, Salford, Scotland and London
- 600 British Gas employees swam across the 2010 series, deepening employee engagement
- Launch of a new event at Salford Quays with over 2000 participants
- Extensive on-site branding and above-the-line (ATL) communications
- TV coverage on C4 - four British Gas sponsored one-hour TV shows
5) Launched the British Gas Swim Hero network – an internal engagement programme to create sponsorship advocates within the business
- Over 90 active swim heroes across head office, call centres and engineers to champion swimming to the heart of the business
6) Identified and recruited celebrity and athlete ambassadors that resonated with the target audience
- Rebecca Adlington, Duncan Goodhew and Keri Anne Payne were chosen to build swimming’s media profile and support British Gas campaigns
- Celebrity Penny Lancaster fronted the '3 Free Swim' campaign, while Jodie Kidd launched and participated in the Great Swim Series resulting in national coverage on the front page of the Daily Telegraph.
7) Generated huge PR around the Britain’s most successful European Championships and Commonwealth Games, driving the sport forward to
new heights and creating national heroes and heroines.
- Press ads featuring winners were strategically placed during championship coverage
- The events gained us £1m in positive PR for British Gas
8) Helped British Gas create special British Gas Business Energy Audit to cut the energy bills of community pools by at least 10%.
- Provided expert assistance and sustainable energy products to help keep more pools open across the UK.
9) Direct support given to local communities through multiple initiatives
- Launch of 'Pool Watch' - the first online resource offering the public advice on how to save their local pools and obtain funding.
- Creation of a Club Grant scheme – 'Sign up to British Gas and earn you and your club money'.
10) Brought together key industry operators and stakeholders from public, priva