Raising the Visibility of Hydropower

So where does hydropower fit into the public conversation? The fact is, for decades, it hasn’t. For the general public, the idea of “clean energy” conjures up images of gleaming solar panels and spinning wind turbines; hydropower has been an afterthought. Anyone familiar with hydropower knows that it is key to a clean energy future, but we haven’t been able to tell our story; rather, it has gone unsaid.

Yet, this is no longer the case. Recognizing the critical need for the industry to proactively raise awareness with the public, NHA launched a digital advertising campaign designed to increase hydropower favorability among millennials.

Entering its third year, the hydropower ad campaign continues the success of 2023’s “Clean Living” and 2022’s “Below the Surface” campaigns and pivots the message to hydropower’s role as the “Solution That’s Right in Front of You” to ensure a 24/7 reliable clean energy grid.

2024 – The Solution That’s Right in Front of You

This year’s campaign reminds viewers that hydropower is “the solution that’s right in front of you” to help defeat the climate crisis and balance a renewable grid. The ad targets agenda setters and climate thought leaders who will help shape America’s energy goals in this election year and beyond. This effort bolsters the message of prior campaigns by emphasizing water power’s key role in a clean energy mix.

2023 – Clean Living

The “Clean Living” ad aims to push millennials to think beyond associating the concept of clean living with JUST what one eats and how they live; rather, to start thinking about clean energy in their everyday lives. Hydropower and pumped storage provide a 24/7 ready and reliable energy foundation allowing one to plug in EV’s, TV’s and more without thinking twice about whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

2022 – Beneath the Surface

Hydropower is more than just clean energy. Yes, it’s essential to our clean energy future, but there’s so much more below the surface. Many don’t realize that hydropower also enriches our communities by protecting our ecosystems and creating community gathering places.

What Does Success Look Like?

Saying that you will change someone’s perception is one thing, but having data to back up that claim is another.

A key component of the hydropower industry’s ad campaign is surveying the targeted group to gauge both message retention and perception.

Prior to the 2022 “Beneath the Surface” campaign, NHA tested various messages with focus groups to best identify the most persuasive messages relating to hydropower. The three messages that tested the best with millennials were:

  • What hydropower means to local communities
  • What hydropower means for a clean energy future
  • What hydropower means to our everyday lives

During the pre-deployment phase, the survey results showed that the messaging about hydropower’s contributions to local communities resulted in the most significant perception increase. Armed with this data, NHA decided to use the “Beneath the Surface” ad in its inaugural ad campaign.

Pre-Deployment Survey Results

  • 11% of survey participants had never heard of hydropower. By way of comparison, 1% had never heard of solar or wind. What this means is that hydropower has a significant opportunity to close the education gap.
  • All three of our test ads were successful and raised hydropower’s favorability above 90 percent. Simply put, the ads demonstrated that if we tell hydropower’s story we can increase support for the industry.
  • However, the survey revealed a significant intensity behind one of our test ad. Titled “Beneath the Surface”, the ad describes how hydropower enriches local communities by protecting ecosystems and creating public gathering spaces. Survey results showed that we positively lifted public sentiment by 26% on gathering spaces and 18% on protecting ecosystems.
  • When asked about the ad, 71% of survey participants said it provided new information that they did not know. One respondent said, “I wasn’t aware that you could make new sources to harness hydropower and build parks around them. I also wasn’t sure if wildlife would be negatively affected by it, but this ad made me think different.”

Understanding the Best Message Was Just the First Step…

Reaching people was important, but our focus was measuring favorability and ad performance. At the top of the list were two key metrics:

  • Did the ad shift perceptions of hydropower’s impact in local communities?
  • Did our audience retain our message (message retention).

Unlike the surveys and focus groups during the testing phase of the campaign where we had participants undivided attention, we were deploying the ad and surveying people in the “real-world”. As such, we used a treatment/control design to measure the impact among our target audience in the real-world versus in a forced-exposure environment.

Repetition is Key to Message Retention

NHA used three platforms to reach our audience: social media (Facebook/Instagram), connected tv (Hulu, Roku, ad-supported tv) and programmatic video (this means you would see the ad on websites like CNN or NY Times).

All told, each person saw the ad 13 times per week over the course of the campaign deployment. To do so, we leveraged 33 million impressions, across 3.8 million devices (phone, table, laptop) to reach nearly 2 million people – exceeding our reach goal.

By Telling Our Story – We Shifted Perception

Again, NHA’s primary goals for the campaign were shifting perceptions of hydropower’s impact in local communities and message retention. To that end, the ad was successful in increasing favorability – with statistically significant +6pts lift in strong positive perceptions of community impact. We saw this positive lift in both regions tested.

And for message retention, our ad saw a statistically significant increase +8pts. For the audience that viewed our ad on connected tv (Hulu, Roku), message retention was as high as +14pts.

The results of the real-world ad deployment boils down into several key takeaways:

  • People saw the ad in passing during their daily lives. Our ad was memorable and sticky. And if you saw it on platform like Hulu you really remembered it. Our ad firm said they rarely see +14 pts message retention.
  • Our ad delivered new information for viewers. The core message of the ad is: hydro enriches our communities. The +6pts lift in favorability demonstrates that the message broke through and increased favorability. The ad was successful.

In addition to reaching the public, this ad campaign also helped to educate the industry on how to talk about hydropower. For this particular exercise, it became wildly apparent that by just conveying what we do for the community (building trails and parks, improving water quality, protecting wetlands and wildlife to name a few) can positively impact the way people view hydropower as a resource.

How Can You Raise the Visibility of Hydropower?

Following the measurable success of 2022’s “Beneath the Surface” campaign, NHA went full steam ahead in 2023 and debuted the “Clean Living” campaign. The “Clean Living” ad was seen in three regions (the Southeast, Northeast, and Midwest) for 5 weeks in the fall.

We are now running the 2024 campaign, which is entitled, “The Solution That’s Right in Front of You”. We encourage you to share these videos on your own social media and with your family and friends.

A campaign like this is not the only way NHA is helping you share your story with your customers, though. Every year, on August 24, NHA and the hydropower industry celebrate National Hydropower Day (#HydroDay). #HydroDay is a day for all those working in the hydropower industry to share the importance of their work with their networks.

The ad campaign and other efforts at communicating with hydropower industry stakeholders shows – if we can tell our story in a compelling way, we can increase support for hydropower as the cornerstone of our nation’s clean energy future.