Mercury Energy is set to poke the bear of gas-guzzling New Zealand as it continues to push its clean energy narrative.

A new campaign from the company by ad agency FCB, launching this weekend, calls on Kiwis to break up with oil and trade their petrol cars for electric alternatives.

In a serendipitous Valentine's Day coincidence, the video behind the campaign plays out as a quirky break-up tale that sees oil personified as likeable greased-up gas station owner with a particularly impressive moustache (as an interesting aside, the campaign was edited by Kiwi Academy Award nominee Tom Eagles).

Just in case the various images of petrol cars being crushed and recycled isn't obvious enough, Mercury is also releasing a series of bumper stickers with the phrase "This is my last petrol car".

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There is, of course, a huge incentive for Mercury to get people into electric cars. The more electric energy Kiwis use, the more money Mercury can make in the long run.

Car lover Mike Hosking isn't likely to put this bumper sticker on his sports car. Photo / File
Car lover Mike Hosking isn't likely to put this bumper sticker on his sports car. Photo / File

While the company has been on this journey for some time, with electric bikes and vehicles making appearances in its advertising since 2016, this is by far the most overt jab Mercury has taken at the fossil fuel industry.

In taking this stance, Mercury chief marketing officer Julia Jack is fully aware that the nation's continued strong contingent of petrol lovers might not exactly be enamoured with what the company is calling on New Zealanders to do.

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Jack also concedes to the Herald that she did have a sense of trepidation about this campaign, given some of the backlash she saw when Mercury previously converted a muscle car into a fully electric vehicle in 2018.

"We started with the ebikes, then we took the debate up a level with the EV and we now feel like this is the next logical step for us," Jack told the Herald.

"We deliberately kept in the Mercury tone and made the message a bit nostalgic. We all had a great relationship with oil, but it's had its day and it's not the right relationship for us anymore. So let's bid it a fond farewell and continue to a brighter future."

The campaign will also feature provocative outdoor billboards. Photo / Supplied
The campaign will also feature provocative outdoor billboards. Photo / Supplied

Mercury doesn't have a contingency plan to fend off the backlash, with Jack saying the whole point is to start an honest debate about how everyone in New Zealand can contribute to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. And this also applies to Mercury.

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"We're not perfect at Mercury yet," she says.

"We've got 80 per cent of our fleet converted, but because of our various vehicle requirements, we haven't been able to convert 100 per cent of the fleet yet, and we still sell gas.

"We want to be really honest about our 'kiss oil good-bye' stories too."

Mercury isn't alone among brands taking a stance on contentious issues. Other major brands such as Nike have made big gambles in potentially upsetting a large portion of their user base. Get the balance right and you can generate a massive amount of publicity while simultaneously giving your consumer base added incentive to buy what you're selling.

Get the balance wrong, however, and you could stand to upset too many people and left with no one willing to buy your stuff.

Mercury is banking on the fact that enough people in New Zealand are open to the idea of electric vehicle and that even petrol heads have a growing understanding that the fossil fuel industry hasn't been great for the world.

While petrol heads might be enraged by the sight of a Mercury bumper sticker on the car in front of them, the company isn't actually trying to convince these people to change.

It's instead delivering a message to those who are already open to the idea of electric energy. It's just delivering that message on a few public platforms.

This is in many ways in line with the thinking of economist Marc Jaccard, the author of "The Citizen's Guide to Climate Success: Overcoming Myths that Hinder Progress", who argues that those interested in championing climate change need to stop focusing on trying to convince everyone that they need to change.

In a recent interview, Jaccard argued that all the big environmental causes from prior years – be it the fights against sulphur emissions or greenhouse gases – didn't focus on convincing everybody that they need to change. You just need to convince enough people that are climate-sincere, he argues.

The point here is that Mercury knows that a few people are likely to get upset about its bumper stickers or a video showing cars being smashed to the tune of a romantic earworm, but that simply goes with the territory of picking a side in any controversial issue.