Finding Hydropower’s Voice: Magnifying the Message Through An Ad Campaign

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Finding Hydropower’s Voice: Magnifying the Message Through An Ad Campaign


December 19, 2022


LeRoy Coleman, Director of Communications, National Hydropower Association


Finding Hydropower’s Voice: Magnifying the Message Through An Ad Campaign

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Unless you are living underneath a rock, by now you know that you can save 15% on your car insurance by switching to Geico. Why is that tagline embedded in your psyche? The answer is simple: with seemingly endless budget, companies and organizations can leverage advertising as a means of building a brand while connecting directly with viewers.

In years past, the barrier to entry when running a national television ad buy was too high due to exorbitant costs. That, of course, has changed. Everyone has a device – phones, tablets, and laptops – as such, means by which to enter the public zeitgeist are endless.

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 hydro 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 new digital advertising campaign in 2022 designed to increase hydropower favorability among millennials, and we learned a few things along the way that we hope will help inform, empower, and encourage the hydropower industry to start telling its story.


NHA’s approach to launching an ad campaign was simple because the initial goal was to learn what messaging would resonate with a millennial audience. NHA created three ads with three distinct messages:

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

NHA then tested the ads in four regional test markets (Boston, MA / Atlanta, GA / Des Moines, Iowa / Minnesota, and Bakersfield/Fresno/Monterey/Salinas, California), surveying nearly 2,400 individuals. In each market, NHA also held small focus groups to gain a deeper insight into how hydro is viewed and how the ads performed.


The results of surveys and focus groups were eye-opening; here are just a few key takeaways:

  • 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.”

With the ad “Beneath the Surface” selected, based off the positive survey results, we deployed it in the Northeast (Maine, Massachusetts, and New York) and Southeast (Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee); with the goal to reach a total of 700,000 people.

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.

We 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.

Again, our 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.

At the outset of our ad campaign, we knew that we had a great story to tell. In fact, hydropower has a lot of great stories ranging from grid resiliency to the history of America, and everywhere in between. But we had to focus. As such, the key messages we tested zeroed in on the role that hydropower will play in a clean energy future, the role hydropower is playing in our lives, and connecting people to the hydropower that is in their backyard.

During the testing phase, we learned that, for different reasons, each of these messages are effective ways to message hydropower. We discovered, or in many ways, confirmed that a large education gap exists between the public and hydropower, and there is a lot of work to do. The knowledge disparity between hydro and solar alone is enough to justify an ad campaign.

And of the individuals we tested that are familiar with hydro, we actually maintain a generally good baseline support. But, we learned that we can improve upon that support, and bring new supporters into the fold by actively telling our story.

Now the results of our 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 hydro. 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.


Rest assured, this ad campaign was the first of many to come. Going forward, NHA will be delving into the narrative of hydro paired with other renewables for a clean energy future and will be fundraising in the first quarter of 2023 to help support this effort.

If you haven’t seen the ad, you can view it here, and if you would like to share the ad using your website, email lists, or social media platform, click here to access our toolkit.