WORKSHOP: Case Study - Consumers switch on to better value

ANNIE KELLY

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Background: The Consumers' Association usually campaigns by lobbying government and regulators but wanted to run a programme to motivate people to take positive action and make changes for themselves.

It decided to use its Which? brand, which is normally used as an information and advice source for the UK public, to front a national consumer-facing campaign focusing on ways to save money.

Aims: The Consumers' Association wanted to design a campaign that would allow it to engage directly with consumers and encourage them to act to challenge the dominance of big-name brands and make savings across a range of markets.

By creating a hard-hitting campaign using high-profile public events, it aimed to challenge consumer inertia and raise awareness of Which?.

How it worked: The charity decided to run a three-pronged campaign that would launch at different stages throughout the year. The first programme, titled Tell Sid To Switch, made its debut in January 2002 and was designed to encourage people to switch utility companies and save money. A web site, www.switchwithwhich.co.uk, was set up to provide free advice on how to switch energy suppliers. To launch the site, the Tell Sid To Switch slogan was projected along with the web address onto the side of the Fulham gasworks.

In May, the No Interest campaign was launched across the UK. Focusing on the banking sector and current accounts, Which? released research that showed that if 70 per cent of people who held current accounts at the four big high-street banks (Lloyds, Barclays, TSB and HSBC) switched accounts, then the total savings would be £500 million.

An intensive media campaign supported the initiative, and the charity covered one London Underground station, at Bank on the Central line, with 16 posters urging customers to switch to a bank account that offers a better rate of interest. Two weeks later, the Consumers' Association projected the No Interest logo onto HSBC's London headquarters.

The charity also ran a series of articles in Which? magazine including a "product picker" feature on the Switch With Which web site to give consumers a clearer understanding of the various options open to them.

The third section of the campaign rolled out across the country in October.

Called B Mobile, the charity concentrated on mobile phone deals, and aimed to provide customers with information about alternative and cheaper mobile phone tariffs.

It created an online mobile phone comparison site, which enabled people to enter details of their own mobile phone use and find the best deal for them.

Results To date 350,000 people have switched gas accounts away from British Gas and more than 90,000 people are expected to move their accounts away from the big four banks this year.

The web site has received more than 120,000 visitors since the start of the campaign and the charity has received national and regional media coverage.

"The success of the campaign confirms our original belief that consumer inertia and the activities of major companies can be successfully challenged," said Helen Parker, editor of Which? magazine.

"We intend to build on the successes of the past year and roll out further switching campaigns in 2003."

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