The Most Energy Efficient Campaign Ever: DDB SF & Energy Upgrade California

The campaign launched with a dark TV spot that actually saved up to 20% more screen energy than the average commercial.


Ben Wolan
Executive Creative Director DDB San Francisco

Tell us about your role in the creation of this work.

As ECD of DDB San Francisco, I’m involved in helping select and push all of our work, especially campaigns that we feel operate at a high level creatively. This idea felt both fresh and effective, so I was excited at the outset. It was a truly collaborative process, starting with the account and strategy teams setting us up to do inventive, out-of-the-box work, and our creative team pushing the idea with the creative directors.

Give us an overview of the campaign, what is it about?

It’s the “Most Energy Efficient Ad Campaign Ever,” and was created solely to promote saving energy in California. Instead of just reminding people to change to LED bulbs or unplug things, we wanted to walk the walk and have the ads save some energy themselves. So every piece of creative, from TV to radio to OOH to digital, actually saved energy. We even turned the National Anthem at a major league baseball game into an energy efficient moment. When you look at the media buy and do the math, it will actually save a bunch of energy in the end.

Tell us about the details creative brief, what did it ask?

The brief was all about how people have been hearing the same energy saving tips for nearly 50 years. So how do we break through to a population who’s heard it over and over again? We needed to do something that would get people’s attention.

Which insight led to the creation of this piece of work?

The insight was really that if we’re going to ask people to save energy, we should demonstrate our ability to do so as well. Leading by example.

Can you share with us any alternative ideas(if any)for this campaign? Why was this idea chosen?  

We chose this idea because this type of thinking was our vision for the brand when our new creative and strategic leadership started, myself included. We wanted to be a brand that, when possible, tried to change behaviors through our own actions.

What was the greatest challenge that you and your team faced during development.

Wow, there were a lot of challenges on this one. First off, it’s a highly conceptual idea that’s very meta, so it was a bit of a mind bender to make sure it all made sense. We had a lot to communicate: 1. This ad actually saves energy. 2. Because it all adds up. 3. Here is how you can save. Beyond that, the post-production on our broadcast spot was really difficult. We had to make the spot dark enough to seem “different” than usual and prove the point, but not so dark that you couldn’t see anything. When you factor in that everyone views this on different quality and size screens, it becomes a really hard thing to plan for.

What did you enjoy most about seeing this campaign through? Did you learn anything new from the experience?

I really enjoyed pushing the envelope from a conceptual standpoint. I’ve always liked self-referential ideas and it was a great challenge to thread the needle on this one. It’s also the first big integrated campaign for Energy Upgrade California since I started at DDB San Francisco, and I’m really proud of how our team was able to land the concept in so many different types of mediums.

Where do you see this campaign going in the future?

We’ll continue to be about brand actions as much as possible. I’d also like to bring the idea of energy efficiency into the production process itself, perhaps creating work with zero net energy used.