It is a well-known fact that California is enduring a longtime drought and water supply challenges, but many residents of the Golden State are desensitized to the constant news headlines of the crisis. In the fall of 2022, California Water Service (Cal Water) – the third largest regulated U.S. water utility – wanted to communicate the urgency of the drought to its customers and motivate them to use less water, especially during the non-summer months when the drought is less pressing on people’s minds, due to cooler temperatures and occasional rainstorms.
Cal Water partnered with Hill+Knowlton Strategies (H+K) to create a branded infomercial-style video campaign to encourage its audience to see the problem differently and make efforts to conserve. By tapping into humor and trending nostalgia, the 30-second video ad nods to the classic, overly energetic infomercials of the 90s while successfully relaying the message of saving water. The goal was to connect with Cal Water customers in a fun, yet meaningful way, and show them how easy it can be to save water.
One of the challenges we faced for this project was also the driving force for the creative approach of the 30-second video ad. As Cal Water serves nearly 500,000 customer connections in 24 districts throughout California, across various levels of income, age, education, and background, we needed to create a video that would speak to a diverse audience.
We decided on a branded infomercial-style video to capture our audience and cater to the nostalgia trend that has been seen across social media and digital content in a variety of industries. Many Cal Water customers – especially Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers – fondly recall the classic infomercials of the 90s and their unique elements.
To reinforce this nostalgia, we created a 30-second video that used upbeat background music, cheesy stock photos, in-your-face graphics and text animation, an over-the-top voiceover, and more. With these creative elements, we were also able to easily convey our “save water today” message and give our customers a call to action (literally with a phone number as well as other helpful resources and imagery).
In order to deliver the important message of saving water to the areas most in need, we targeted additional dollars to specific Cal Water districts, and created localized versions of the infomercial specific to those areas. California is a large, diverse state, and we wanted to tap into local pride and make viewers feel like they specifically could be part of the solution.
The video ad was featured on Cal Water social channels and on Connected TV (CTV), targeting geographic locations where Cal Water customers live. We also worked with a California-based influencer to reach a new audience on social media, and collaborated with him to make content that complemented the branded infomercial-style video ad, but with a different voice. The unique characteristics of the creator content, including increased authenticity, creator personality, trust among viewers, and relatability, were key to expanding reach on social.
Our strategy to promote engaging video content, along with our creator content on Facebook and Instagram, was highly successful. We achieved extremely high video completion rates and high impressions, allowing our message to be delivered at massive scale.
Utilizing both social and Connected TV (CTV) advertising proved to be a powerful combination to effectively reach our target audiences. On Facebook and Instagram, the Cal Water infomercial and influencer-supported content garnered 6,508,244 impressions over a two-month period (two months for the infomercial, and one month for the influencer content). On CTV, which included the Cal Water infomercial only, we had 1,226,874 impressions and 1,189,272 video completions – with a 96.9% completion rate that is well above the average of 85.9% for a 30-second video. This indicates our video held the viewers’ attention throughout the full 30-second spot and was the right length for the content. These results also tell us the content was relevant and useful to the target audience, with a clear message being delivered.
Our CTV ads were seen on Roku TV, one of the top CTV platforms, Pluto TV, Sling TV, The CW App, and Fox News App, among others. Furthermore, the video ad aired in November 2022, and Cal Water customers surpassed the state’s conservation target of 15% in December 2022, saving 16.5% company-wide over December 2020. Cal Water districts in which we put additional targeting on social and CTV saw some of the highest water savings:
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