The beginnings of the 1990s were still lean times economically and unemployment was high. In the energy world there were worries about oil supplies as the first Gulf War took place and ESB faced a crisis with generating capacity being outstripped by demand. Huge capital investments were considered risky and Demand Side Management was adopted by many electricity utilities, including ESB, as a means of controlling the rate of growth in demand.
The big issue of the decade was environmental awareness and especially, energy conservation. Ireland was hurtling towards the new Millennium and ESB was bracing itself for de-regulation. Our advertising was faced with the dilemma of promoting the benefits of our product while encouraging people to use less of it. The advertising produced for these early campaigns was simple and to the point with vivid images used to get the message across. ‘Get the most from electricity’ was the strap-line employed across all sectors to focus on more efficient use.
CDP Associates Ltd took over the advertising contract for ESB in 1996 and, laying the ground work for a competitive era, adopted the strap-line for all ESB advertising “Where do they get their energy.” This line was adapted for energy efficiency promotions also – Where does water heating get the energy to save? Customers were encouraged to save both energy and money on all kinds of energy efficient products – CFLs, A-rated kitchen appliances.
The business of ESB sponsorship was established on an organised and commercially focussed basis. It associated ESB branding with support for the arts, sports and environmental issues. It constituted a big part of ESB’s corporate public relations media presence.
In 1996 we celebrated another 50th anniversary – the beginning of Rural Electrification. A year long round of roadshows, television and radio programmes, reunions and historical publications reminded everyone of the importance of ESB in Irish society – Where does the country get its energy? Looking to the future we also wondered where Dublin Beyond 2000 would get its energy? One of the biggest campaigns each year in the 90s was Energy Awareness Week. This involved the whole of ESB on a grand scale with competitions, street theatre, road shows, direct mailing, and major advertising using every medium. Dustin the Turkey was employed on a short-term contract basis!
ESB also made its first move into the newly opened electricity market in Northern Ireland. The print adverts produced by CDP were unique and created using a 360° panoramic camera to give eye-catching views of urban landmarks in Northern Ireland. As we hurtled towards the new Millennium ESB was facing a new energy industry structure with changes and challenges aplenty ahead.