The People’s Champion is a brand that makes a very specific claim: that it is standing up for the consumer against the fat cats who line their pockets at the consumer’s expense. It’s an increasingly popular narrative in categories where old and established market leader/s dominate and stifle the industry, where barriers to entry are high for a challenger and the market leader's objective is to keep things exactly as they are.
For this reason, the energy sector - an industry where the big six brands in the UK hold over 90pc of the market, seem to have their fair share of brands claiming to be the People's Champion brand.
First came Ovo Energy, launched in 2009, offering lower prices and a public dressing down of the Big 6 from founder and spokesperson Stephen Fitzpatrick. “The Big Six make it really complicated to move" he explained. "The bills are badly communicated so people don’t really understand what they’re paying for”. Ovo tripled their customer base last year demonstrating great consumer demand for alternatives to the Big Six.
This year however, it's First Utility who most lay claim to the People’s Champion mantle by too offering lower energy prices to customers and launching a public campaign to scrap variable tariffs – the default tariff offered by the big six energy companies which has Britain overpaying on their energy bills by an estimated £3.4 Billion. “Being a challenger brand is about attitude, not size,” said Head of Marketing, Paul Cable. “We see our role as trying to keep the rest of the industry honest and challenging anything we see that isn’t in customers’ best interests.”
First Utilty’s ‘Unicorn Power’ TV ad, debuting at the turn of the year, brilliantly exemplified their challenge to the incumbents, creating a fake energy company called ‘HD Power’ to highlight nonsensical advertising from the market leaders as well as a general attitude of patronising superiority they have for the British public.
Being the fastest growing energy company in the UK - 275,000 new customers joined First Utility last year, can have it’s pitfalls. A sharp rise in the number of customer complaints were made last year – not ideal for a brand that prides itself on championing the customer. Although to be fair to First Utility they’ve pledged to invest £20M in customer services to address the issue.
As with any true challenger brand, the brand identity needs to be built on rock, and manifest itself throughout the organisation - not just in their communications, but in their behaviours, actions and company culture. Demonstrating rapid-growth and a swagger in their advertising, First Utility seem to have the challenger energy running through them in 2016. We’re hoping it’s real and substantial. Unicorn Power alone is not enough.
Editor of The Challenger Project, marketing at eatbigfish. Fan of the underdog. West Ham supporter. All adds up really.