Though hybrids and all-electric vehicles are now fixtures of the auto industry, it has been an uphill battle for the segment since the turn of the 21st century. Range anxiety was to blame for some consumer skepticism, but so has the reputation of certain cars (say, the Toyota Prius) that left style at the door in favor of practicality. Tesla Motors has had a major influence on the shift in perception of electric vehicles, but other factors have helped as well.
Take marketing campaigns. Automakers that needed a way to convince consumers of the value, sexiness, or usefulness of electric cars have turned to agencies to produce television or online ads to get their point across. Without sounding preachy or pretentious, a few creative teams have nailed the message for battery-powered cars. Here are six electric vehicle ads that made a great case for the EV industry as a whole in recent years.
6. Chevy Volt: Baffling Aliens
GM took a clever approach to disseminating information about EVs with this commercial that aired during Super Bowl XLVI in 2012. While extraterrestrials marvel over the battery pack of the Volt in the garage, the exasperated owner explains once again that, indeed, it runs on electricity for several dozen miles before it switches over to gasoline power. The aliens are impressed, which draws a smile, but it makes the Chevy Volt seem like a technological wonder worth exploring.
This ad made its point with style while never approaching a preachy tone. It also made electric cars seem like something your neighbor might have in the garage next door (i.e. something normal).
5. Fiat 500e: The Electric That Turns You On
Fiat has gone out of its way to point out the sexiness of small cars with a series of “The Italians Are Coming” ads. The automaker took that same approach to its all-electric car, the 500e, in a recent ad. Though the car remains a compliance vehicle available only in Oregon and California, Fiat decided to suggest there was nothing dull or frumpy about its new EV. Putting the little electric car on a test track with cones is amusing in itself.
4. Ford C-Max Energi Plug-in: Clowning Cadillac
When the Cadillac ELR became ready for consumption, GM released the “n’est ce-pas?” ad for the pricey plug-in that received a torrent of bad reviews. Smug self-satisfaction was the tone of the day, while the ad managed to mock a nation (France) and offend countless others at the same time. It was also a glorification of wealth for wealth’s sake and a celebration of the workaholic way of life. In short, it was a disaster.
Ford seized on the moment and released this populist response as an ad for its C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid. Replacing a luxe swimming pool with a pile of dirt and the Cadillac with a functional C-Max, Ford stressed that EV drivers don’t have to be pompous characters in the slightest. Heck, they might even be interested in the environment for the environment’s sake, and hip people at the same time.
3. Renault ZE Electric: “You Already Switched”
Renault had a fleet of four electric vehicles available as far back as 2011. At that point, the zero-emissions concept was still making the rounds with the general public. This ad’s creative team decided to tackle the issue with absurdity. Powering everything from a razor to a credit card machine with gasoline, it makes the characters seem wasteful, bordering on buffoonish.
“You already switchd to elecricity for many things,” the narrator says. “So why not for traveling?” Why not, indeed. Though Renault’s target audience was European, this ad made a terrific common-sense point for consumers everywhere.
2. Nissan Leaf: Polar Bear in the City
Get animals or babies in your ad and you have people pay attention. Make it a cute white polar bear being forced out of his or her home, and you start making a powerful statement about the planet and the emissions we produce in the name of transportation. What if traveling were possible without the pollution?
The creative team makes a cognitive leap here (plug-ins are not zero-emissions vehicles per se), but any image of a white polar bear hugging a guy in his driveway is enough to make a solid point. Think beyond your daily commute. The world is a big place with a lot of living creatures on it.
1. Smart Canada: Smart ED Drag Race
Line up a Mustang against a Smart car on a drag strip, and you already have people laughing. Follow it with an Audi A5 and a Porsche and the ad becomes hysterical, especially after the Audi starts lapping the little Smart Electric Drive before it even crosses the finish line. Muscle car lovers and EV skeptics have exactly what they want, and that’s before you recall the Electric Drive is abbreviated as “ED.” Then Smart flips the script on the audience.
“Top speed means nothing in the city,” the viewer sees. That’s a fair point to make at a time when sports cars are pushing the envelope north of 200 mph. Smart then proceeds to burn all the powerful cars in question at a race of 15 feet or so. By positing a real-life situation rather than a fantasy world where race drivers rule, Smart scores points on practicality and (gasp) reality. And that’s before you even consider getting a parking spot in town.