Jan. 6, 2012
BOSTON — You may have seen the new ad from Citizens Energy to promote its heating oil program for the poor. While Citizens Energy — headed up by former U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy — has run ads and public service announcements for years, there’s something different about this one.
In years past, Citizens Energy focused on the elderly poor.
Today, the ad focuses on the Booth family, part of the shrinking middle class.
The change is a sign of our times and its elevated anger over economic inequality.
"In past campaigns we have featured people in need but I think there's a national recognition that the recent downturn in the economy has really rattled many people in the middle class who are falling directly out of positions of relative security," said Brian Wright O’Connor, head of public affairs for Citizens Energy. "I don't think the Booth family ever believed they would be in a position to need to go to a food bank or to apply for fuel assistance."
The new ad began airing the week Congress and the White House cut 25 percent of funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The lawmakers then left town for the holidays. It’s estimated that a substantial number of the nearly 9 million households that received fuel assistance in 2011 will have far less to rely on in 2012. In the spot, Kennedy takes a not-so-veiled swipe at the nation's large energy companies, saying, "We asked the big oil companies and oil-producing nations to help. Only Citgo and the people of Venezuela answered the call."
O'Connor said the company reached out to "all of the major oil companies." The heating assistance from Citgo and Venezuela to Citizens Energy's 200,000 recipients is indispensable, he thought: "The bottom line is that we're happy to work with oil-producing countries and big oil companies that want to offset the burden of cold winter nights on the poor."
And what about the timing… did Citizens Energy roll out the ad just when Joe Kennedy's son took a step to run for Congress?
The company said the spot was shot early this fall, many weeks before Barney Frank announced that he would not run for re-election. Citizens Energy also told WGBH News that a variation of this ad runs every year.