To assist new car buyers and business fleet managers to purchase vehicles that suit their needs, with less impact on the environment, the Government created greenvehicleguide.gov.au. The website provides comprehensive information and a “star” performance rating for all new cars regarding fuel consumption, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
The communications challenge was to publicise the website nationally over several years with a very small budget.
A research-based ongoing communications campaign was implemented during 2005-2007. Bringing together professionals from several disciplines, the campaign effectively used a wide range of communications activities with results that have exceeded set objectives.
There are significant environmental and public health benefits to be gained by people and organisations choosing more environmentally friendly cars.
However, research undertaken in 2005 by the then Department of Transport and Regional Services showed that although the general public was aware that emissions from cars could impact the environment, there was a lack of general awareness of environmental performance between different makes and models.
In addition, environmental factors were listed as low on the list of considerations made by car buyers when making decisions to purchase a vehicle. Only four per cent of those surveyed at the time rated the environment as important - with the most common factors listed as price, safety and fuel economy.
The Green Vehicle Guide (GVG) is the only source of information in Australia that lists the performance of new vehicles against the criteria of fuel consumption, greenhouse gas and pollution emissions.
There was a minimal amount of money, over several years, to publicise a website which technically would be of interest to anyone buying a car (especially with regard to fuel economy).
A Public Relations Solution
The scope of the project and the timeframes involved called for the expertise of a public relations firm with organisational and issues management experience in order to deal with the variety of stakeholders, on controversial issues.
The decision was made to engage public relations expertise to assist and support in-house communications professionals in this communications effort.
The Canberra Office of Colmar Brunton Research Ltd was engaged to conduct research at three stages in the project – start, during and completion.
At the beginning of planning for the campaign, benchmarking research was undertaken to provide guidance to the communications plan; inform development of the messages within the communications plan; and products. To assess the attitudes of new car buyers and learn how they wanted us to communicate with them, the research had both qualitative and quantitative components.
Focus groups and Internet surveys tested public attitudes toward the GVG and gauged the suitability of planned communications channels and products by seeking feedback on advertising concepts and collateral being developed. The research identified “Make a smarter choice” as the catchphrase/slogan most suited to the “hip-pocket” choices new car buyers identified as significant in their choice of vehicle.
When the project was underway, we assessed the overall penetration of our messages to date, to determine if we needed to enhance our tactics.
Telephone surveys helped gauge the overall effectiveness of the media relations and advertising campaigns.
This research told us that while we were making progress, we needed to invest in more direct approaches to reach our audiences.
At the end of the national advertising campaign we conducted a telephone survey to assess whether or not our approach had been successful.
This work helped the in-house project staff track changes in attitude and our meetings with industry and stakeholder interactions helped identify new products and collaborations. In the end, the results showed an increase in overall awareness of the website from 0 percent in 2004 to more than 15 percent nationally at the end of 2006.
Other research occurred through consultations with the industry represented by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, motoring associations and government departments - as well as ongoing in-house media monitoring and analysis.
Primary Audience: Those whose behaviour research showed we were most likely to change:
- People who intend to buy a new car within two years and have a positive attitude towards green issues.
- People who intend to buy a new car within two years and have a neutral attitude towards green issues.
- New car buyers aged less than 45 years of age, female, with a university education and a higher household income.
Secondary Audience: Those who research showed would be less likely to use the internet to purchase a new car:
- People who intend to buy a new car within the next two years, over 45 years of age and without college or university education.
Tertiary Audience: Key influencers and transmitters of our messages:
- Specialist motoring media and motoring trade media
- Women’s and lifestyle media
- Car manufacturers
- Motoring organisations
- Specialist environment and “green” media
Each of these audiences was given targeted information to help them understand the greenvehicleguide website; how to use the information for their own advantage/publications; or convey them to broader audiences. Media releases also targetted specific media.
A Communications Strategy was developed which included: the development of a public relations plan by an external public relations consultant, Sydney-based Porter Novelli; the development of advertising concepts by Grey Advertising agency in Canberra; and an advertising placement plan by Universal McCann in Canberra.
For cost reasons, the plan was based on leveraging the communications efforts of those who were already in the business of communicating with new car buyers: the automotive industry, motoring organisations, motoring and lifestyle media and websites and selected government departments.
This approach was complemented by a media relations strategy aimed at building both national and local presences for the story. The Minister would play a key role in communicating our messages through letters to significant stakeholders including newspaper, magazine, radio and TV chiefs of staff during the campaign.
Plans to do advertising nationally, over a period of eight weeks, were carefully timed to match public relations activities so that a small advertising spend could be properly capitalised upon. Ultimately it was decided to invest in a series of advertisements in the motoring sections of papers and motoring magazines in all capital and major metropolitan areas, supported by internet “banner” advertisements on selected car sales sites.
Mainstream public relations and stakeholder communications preceded and supported the advertising components to maintain awareness in the longer term. The department’s in-house communications capabilities and networks were utilised after the initial advertising phase to communicate information on an ongoing basis.
The key elements of the strategy included:
- public opinion research;
- appropriate resources;
- industry and stakeholder consultation;
- print, marketing and advertising collateral informed by market research;
- distribution of Ministerial letters to significant stakeholders (Automotive industry associations, other Federal, state and territory government departments);
- editorial content placed in target public magazines and web-sites;
- media relations program;
- 1800 information line;
- co-ordinated sponsorship management.
The Department, supported by the engagement of creative agency, research, advertising and public relations consultancies, undertook campaign management.
Colmar Brunton was engaged to conduct preliminary and evaluative market research. Porter Novelli provided public relations planning and support (including some copywriting and logistical support early in the campaign during 2005). Grey design group undertook the creative aspects of the campaign, and Universal McCann supplied an advertising plan.
A series of focus groups and Internet surveys were conducted and a detailed communications plan was prepared. Reporting mechanisms and regular project management meetings occurred.
Given the size of “new car buyer” audience, and the small budgets allocated each financial year, the Department aimed to leverage communications through third party endorsements such as government departments, consumer motoring media, women’s magazines, environment “green” websites, motoring sales magazines and websites.
Advertisements were placed in magazines such as Open Road and New Car Buyer. Sponsorships and/or collaborations occurred with Toyota, and websites such as Shedrives (now AutoChic) and redbook.com.au.
Media and media relations
The then portfolio Minister issued media releases about the new site tailored to the various target groups and wrote letters to automotive industry organizations, state ministers and other significant stakeholders at the beginning of the campaign.
A media “round table” briefing was held in Sydney in 2005 where motoring journalists attended and asked questions of experts regarding the GVG. Relationships with these journalists have resulted in continuing articles that refer to the website.
Media releases continue to be issued regarding significant events (the greenhouse and fuel label located on all new cars, the GVG website hits reaching the ½ million mark, and the collaborative media approach in 2006 for the launch of Toyota’s Aurion).
Print and Marketing Collateral
Grey Worldwide developed an inventory of print and marketing collateral based on consistent, simple messages and simple cartoon images of vehicles. Recognising the diversity of the travelling public, the primary advertising in 2005 was translated into several languages and placed in related non-English speaking (NESB) press.
Other tools used during the campaign period (2005-2007) include: desk top stress ball cars (which acted as a “clutter-buster” accompaniment to a letter from the Minister in 2005); posters; business cards; pull-up displays for conferences; brochures; folders for press materials; and fact sheets.
National advertising occurred to launch the new website in major metropolitan press (motoring pages), NESB press, motoring association magazines and Internet motoring sites in 2005-06.
DOTARS operates GVG e-mail and telephone inquiry lines and ensures that updates of vehicle information on the GVG website occur frequently.
The GVG website
greenvehicleguide.gov.au was the most important player in this campaign. The GVG has undergone several updates and refreshes (2005, 2006 and 2008) to ensure that its search and comparison functions operate quickly and effectively. The site maintains a two-way information flow where users can send in questions and suggestions (including success stories) to the Department.
The results of the campaign have exceeded expectations – with a growth in awareness that is now largely continuing to expand due to third-party endorsement and use of the GVG ratings in news stories and by politicians and others when referring to vehicle fuel costs and environmental impacts.
The success of the GVG communication’s campaign has been demonstrated through public opinion research and increasingly high levels of public, media, business and automotive industry use.
Citroen used GVG ratings in 2007 advertisements of its C4 vehicle. Currently Hertz use them in the “rent a Toyota Prius and win an eco-friendly holiday” promotion; Ford Australia are using the GVG’s fuel consumption data to compare the Falcon’s performance with competitor’s models; and Toyota link to the GVG from their internet pages. Australia Post issued an environment stamp collection referencing the guide.
The Sydney Morning Herald and Australian newspapers’ motoring writers use the GVG ratings in new car reviews. Magazines such as New Car Buyer and NRMA’s Open Road refer to GVG ratings in their articles and reviews.
Requests for links to the site are increasing. Internet sites including: Redbook.com.au, Sensis.com.au, Choice.com.au, AutoChic.com.au, Hercar.com.au, Drive.com.au, and ecobuy.com.au either link to the GVG or use GVG ratings for car reviews and green promotions.
Women’s magazines such as New Woman and Madison have run “green” features using the GVG as an example of how people can purchase greener cars.
The GVG has become the “benchmark” environment tool for the Australian car industry. Many government vehicle fleets now use GVG ratings as a basis for purchases (Federal, Queensland, Victorian, Western Australia, Tasmania, and ACT). Private fleets such as Adelaide Airport Corporation are also looking to use the GVG ratings for purchases and employee advice as a way to reduce their “carbon footprints”.
The Department’s efforts exceeded expectations.
An in-house desk analysis of media story coverage prior to and during the campaign from 2005-2007 showed that 54 per cent of specialist media story coverage was positive, 40 per cent neutral, and only six per cent of coverage being negative (and occurring prior to the commencement of campaign activities).
Research results demonstrated that awareness of the GVG rose from 0 per cent in 2004 to more than 15 per cent in 2006, thanks in large part to our media relations efforts, our advertising and the website itself.
The Department’s consultations with industry and government stakeholders are positive and contributed insights that made the campaign better.