It must be one of the toughest public image and marketing challenges of
the decade. Turning around the image of British Gas, which has
consistently grabbed headlines with accusations of inefficiency and
But with the deregulation of the energy markets, British Gas is all too
aware that it will have to do something about that image to help it win
the confidence and cash of consumers.
Last week Marketing revealed that British Gas executive director Roy
Gardener is hunting for a group marketing director to take on the job of
representing the company to its consumers.
In the same week British Gas announced it was to demerge its operation,
rebranding its consumer supply company Centrica and its exploration and
production operation BG.
But Centrica, which was developed by brand consultants Interbrand, will
not be used in the company’s consumer marketing. The name British Gas
will remain, along with the current Mrs Merton campaign through BMP DDB.
Successfully re-marketing British Gas is a pressing issue. The company
will have to take on growing competition from newly licensed gas
suppliers, having been savaged by the national press, which labelled the
company’s senior executives ‘fat cats’.
The company has been the subject of attacks from the press and the
public and knows it has to improve its image, having consistently
appeared at the bottom of the national newspaper coverage survey
Presswatch for over a year.
But most observers believe the company must address issues more
fundamental than its name. Keith Courtney, creative director of K
Advertising, says the company is wise to keep British Gas as its public
face, but will have to take drastic action to win over consumers.
‘If I was pitching for British Gas, I would say get your internal
systems right before you do any advertising. Then I would launch a
campaign in the form of a public debate which says ‘we know we were bad,
but we have changed’ and make sure consumers are satisfied with the
service,’ he says ‘I think there is danger in changing the name because
the British public is so cynical. I think a new name is all right for a
new product, but changing British Gas is dubious because the public will
think there has been no change in the company.’
Moray MacLennan, joint chief executive at M&C Saatchi, agrees that
British Gas needs to review its internal procedures before re-marketing
itself. ‘It is a question of changing the company culture rather than
the image. They need to change the attitude of the people inside, then
they can start to repackage and represent,’ he says.
The move by British Gas to recruit a senior marketer appears to be
evidence that this process is at least under way.