Magazine article Marketing

Can BG Escape Its Image?

Magazine article Marketing

Can BG Escape Its Image?

Article excerpt

British Gas's track record in public relations and its dowdy image hardly inspire confidence in its planned push into financial services, writes Patrick Barrett

In recent years, British Gas's image has received a battering that most brands would find difficult to recover from. It has survived intact, but now it is taking a leap into banking - a world where public relations disasters lurk around every corner.

The firm has hatched ambitious plans to launch banking products, but it might find that past image problems will weigh against it.

While its spin-off brand, Goldfish, has created a go-ahead image for British Gas, as well as becoming a major player in the creditcard market, can the new Centrica Financial Services weave the same magic with British Gas-branded financial services?

At least two new products will be launched over the next six months as British Gas capitalises on its huge customer database.

With 19 million consumers, Centrica would appear to be in a strong position to sell financial products. But, unlike other newcomers, such as Virgin, Tesco and Sainsbury's, British Gas carries the wrong sort of PR baggage in a sector that already has a bad reputation for customer service.

British Gas has suffered numerous public humiliations. In 1995, its name became synonymous with the phrase 'fat cats' when shareholders condemned huge pay awards for top managers when service standards appeared to be declining because of job cuts.

Last year, computer problems caused the company to threaten thousands of bill-paying customers with disconnection. The company has also been dogged by inquiries from the Data Protection Registrar, Elizabeth France, about its plans to use its database to market other products.

Image problem

Although British Gas split into two in February to form BG, which runs gas pipelines and storage networks through subsidiary Transco, and Centrica, which markets gas and central heating systems, the name British Gas may retain negative connotations. …

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