Energy as a product: visualising the invisible

Article: Energy as a product

Main Image Detail120071139 / Luc Beziat / Photographer’s Choice


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Energy, as a utility, is unusual as a product. It rarely feels tangible for consumers except in its absence: feeling cold when power is cut off in a storm. Utilities are taken for granted and it takes a lot to cut through consumer indifference.

The problem for those who would like to educate us in more efficient uses of energy is that energy as a product is invisible. Sarah Darby, a researcher at the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University wrote in a 2006 paper “The Effectiveness of Feedback on Energy Consumption” that a prime cause in energy wastage is that it is still “largely invisible to millions of users.” And that “feedback on consumption is necessary for energy savings. It is not always sufficient – sometimes people need help in interpreting their feedback and in deciding what courses of action to take – but without feedback it is impossible to learn effectively.”

Ole Gunnar Dokka, Head of Marketing & Channel Strategy at Norwegian company Statoil was surprised at the reaction of a campaign that some may perceive as basic and banal. The campaign was primarily aimed at decision-makers in Europe, raising awareness around Natural Gas as an interim fuel while alternative energy sources develop. But the campaign uses a set of simple domestic items to signal the idea of “utility”, that energy is useful, a product – not just a natural resource.


The ad frames itself for the viewer at the level of scale, contextualizing domestic supply connecting it to its source. The interactive website, which won the “Favourite Website of the Day” award, takes the viewer into the engineering of the energy platform, into the chemistry of the carbon atom, all the way through an explanation of how technology used in space may be adapted for energy exploration and production on earth.

Ole Gunnar Dokka, Head of Marketing & Channel strategy at Norwegian company Statoil talks to The Curve about the campaign:

The Curve: Tell us a little bit about the new campaign and how it differs from previous campaigns.

Ole Gunnar Dokka: A key element of this European campaign we’ve been running since January, is that we are trying to address the media in the smartest way possible. As we’re a relatively small company, we have to be careful of our spending. One of the ways to do that is to use the media in the most efficient way possible with great creative ideas – combining that with very core business messaging about what we are doing. We work hard on supporting our core business and fold that into something that will make interesting communications.

These ads, they are talking to consumers and business? What are they saying to these audiences?

OGD: Our primary target is what we call “Informed Elite.” In this context that means political advisors, policy makers and different types of people that work in the political system and have something to do with energy policies. We think choosing gas in the right way as a resource is the way to a renewable future.

There is a very direct connection in the imagery between the energy product and the everyday appliances used by consumers.

OGD: We tested the campaign on a small focus group, to make sure we hadn’t gone too far, or into banality, or that we hadn’t lost the message on the way – that people had to make the connection between energy sources and proper production. And I think we succeeded because we got a lot of good feedback from the industry and beyond.

“You can talk all you want about future solutions but it still boils down to the same kind of energy needs.”

Where do you see the market and consumers in relation to the idea of energy at the moment? There is a sense, politically, and in terms of the psychology of the consumer, and in terms of marketing, that “energy” is quite an unstable space. How do you read this?

OGD: It’s difficult to give one clear answer on the energy space at the moment. I have to repeat that our target audience with this communication is the “Informed Elite”, not the consumer market. At the same time, decisions makers are also consumers. The communication will affect them in the same way as it effects consumers. We have been working with this challenge in Norway to create awareness of fuel and energy production in the consumer. You can talk all you want about future solutions but it still boils down to the same kind of energy needs. We have to accept the fact that the energy need of the world is growing and as a company we have to face the challenges the best way possible.

You are primarily addressing decision-makers, what was the ideal outcome for people who saw these ads? How would you hope they would act or are you just raising awareness?

OGD: We are raising awareness about these issues, having people visit the site to give them a simple answer and to have them think about balancing the “here and now.” Looking into the future, with the right tools would be a success (and we think gas is one of those tools).

How do you see the changes in the market, and people’s perception of natural gas?

OGD: We will be constantly challenged now. Not just our company but the world, we take that very seriously. We already see changes and we get more interesting conversations with different people because of this campaign. It’s been running for six months and it got so much attention, not only in the media but also in political circles. I think there was some kind of need to discuss this, that wasn’t really fulfilled and we tapped into it, at the right time.

“It’s part of the same ambition, to raise awareness, to provide facts and build interesting stories on these facts.”

The summary

Statoil’s campaign was aimed at a specific group, decision-makers and policy-makers. However its impact was much broader, partly because of the very direct visual simplicity of the campaign and partly because the campaign was aimed at stimulating debate around natural gas as an interim energy source on the way to renewable sources of energy. Despite the universal concern around energy resources, climate change and energy prices, there has been little public debate around the issue and Statoil’s campaign tapped into a latent desire for more public discussion.

The takeout

Simple pared down iconographic imagery can connect deeply and have a broad appeal. Consumers respond to interactive campaigns that engage them with the science of energy production. There is a space for visual communications that promote debate.

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