Irish Utilities Regulator Turns to Voice Assistants to Promote Energy Savings During the COVID-19 Lockdown

Ireland’s Commission for Regulation of Utilities is turning to voice assistants to help promote its energy savings and educational tools. The Switch On to Savings, Rights and Safety campaign now has a presence with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, The first marketing campaign in Ireland to center on voice apps, according to the CRU.

Redirecting Energy

The Switch On campaign was designed to help teach Irish citizens about energy safety, how to boost their savings, and their rights as a consumer. The CRU had been developing the Switch On campaign for some time, with plans for all kinds of promotional activities. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown in the country threw a lot of those plans into disarray. To compensate, the CRU turned to Google Assistant and Alexa as messengers to the growing number of Irish smart speaker and smart display owners. A survey by Irish marketing agency Core last year found that 15% of Irish households have smart speakers as of early 2019.

As smart speakers are not ubiquitous as of yet in Ireland, the new voice apps are part of a larger network of channels for the Switch On campaign, including social media and the CRU’s website with all of the information. Celebrities and influencers are also taking part in the effort, including popular Irish broadcaster Maia Dunphy. Dunphy has made several videos for the CRU, including the one up top discussing how to access the voice app through Amazon and Google smart speakers. The CRU designed the voice apps and the campaign with the AMPLIFY@Drury Porter Novelli and Granite Digital agencies.

“The current COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to stop in their tracks, quickly re-strategize, and change the ways in which they operate,” CRU communications and public affairs head Karl Richardson said in a statement. “Given how consumer behaviors to switching suppliers have been impacted due to COVID, we are delighted to be the first to introduce this innovative AI technology and reach Irish consumers in a way that compliments their busy on and offline lifestyles and provide them with the information they need to switch on to savings, their right, and safety.”

Vocal Utility

The CRU may be the first to undertake this kind of campaign in Ireland, but government agencies of all sizes are beginning to explore how to connect to citizens with virtual assistants. Iowa has created voice apps for both Alexa and Google Assistant to answer questions about government services, for instance, while and Mesa, Arizona’s Alexa skill not only answers questions but can be used to pay utility bills. Estonia meanwhile, is developing a voice assistant to operate on a national scale.

And, as with Ireland, the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred some of these projects that might have taken longer to get off the ground otherwise. India and the UK have each published a WhatsApp chatbot to answer questions and dispel myths about the virus. At the same time, France launched a voice assistant named AlloCovid, accessible through telephone, to perform a similar role. In the U.S., state governments have started asking voice app developers like Voicify to design ways to communicate with citizens about COVID-19 through Alexa and Google Assistant. If these projects pay off as their creators hope, the CRU won’t be alone among Irish government agencies chatting to citizens through a smart speaker.


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