How Many Solar Companies Can Your Friends Name?

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Or, for that matter, how many residential solar companies can you name? If you feel like reading a rant about why those are such depressing questions, read this repost from Solar Love.

I’m not an advertiser, but I have worked in related fields for a long time. And I got a bachelor’s degree in sociology because of my interest in how people interact with… everything. That academic background is still a core component of how I think about things, including how I think about the successes and failures of the solar rooftop revolution. All of this is leading into a point I constantly have in the back of my head — solar companies have been rubbish at advertising!

I understand that you have to aim your efforts (which are inherently limited) at target audiences, and that there is a constant learning process going on. But there are some big points to consider, learn from, and move past.

By the way, I’m pulling this whole rant out of the back of my head this weekend because of a recent post on Greentech Media. The post notes that, according to a 2011 study, “63 percent of respondents could not accurately recall any solar company that provides solar systems for residential use.” I’m sure the story hasn’t changed a lot since then. Even on this solar-oriented site, I’d bet that a lot of readers (most) can’t name a handful of such companies. There are a lot of them out there, but they are not breaking through to the majority of citizens.

The first time I saw mass market advertising of a solar company was when Yingli advertised at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa (note that Yingli is now the #1 solar module manufacturer in the world — it wasn’t then — and is going to advertise again at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil). I was thrilled to see that, and that really got me wondering why I didn’t see more advertising like that.

By the way, what sort of mass market solar advertising have you seen since then? (I’m seriously asking — hoping to hear about something.)

The solar industry is relying a lot on “word of mouth” advertising. That seems to be working quite well for the industry, as the industry is growing in leaps and bounds, but I think that has more to do with the great attractiveness of going solar rather than anything else — solar “sells itself” these days. However, I think a lot more solar would get sold if more investment was put into getting people’s attention (with the right message, not some Solyndra nonsense from Fox News).

Again, I understand the need to target certain audiences (and the usefulness of B2B advertising), but what I think is really lacking across this industry is a massive targeting of consumers, stimulation of a solar rooftop revolution. You need customers to be stimulated, over and over again, in order to drive them to call an installer or search online for solar panels.

Turn on the TV and count how many car commercials you see. Count bank commercials. Count makeup commercials. Count food commercials. And then put your pencil away and count solar power commercials. Heck, search YouTube and see how many you find.

The fact of the matter is: advertising stimulates demand.

Again, most people can’t identify a single residential solar system company. If they can’t do that, they certainly aren’t getting stimulated to half the extent that’s possible or necessary to get them to go solar.


Of course, there are a lot of factors we could delve into here, but the point is: the solar industry needs to do more advertising! It needs to make people feel like they need solar (which they do). It needs to make people think that a rooftop revolution is underway and that they need to get involved. People need to have the option repeated to them and repeated to them and repeated to them enough times that they finally think, “hmm, maybe it’s time for me to go solar.”

The only other point I’ll emphasize right now is a short bit on the content of advertising. I think it’s well known by now that selling the green aspect of going solar is not the #1 way to sell solar. But just to emphasize it: if you are involved in solar advertising, sell:

  • the financial savings! (And there’s probably evidence to show that you shouldn’t use the term “financial” but should use simpler and more household terms like “save money,” “save big bucks,” “keep your cash in your wallet,” etc.)
  • the energy independence. We all want more independence, especially from Big ______ (fill in the blank — Big Government, Big Megacorporations, Big Utilities, etc.). I think independence from Big Utilities would surely rank well on that list — once you put it on the list.
  • the energy security. Again, we all want security. And I think most people have noticed their electricity bills rising over the years. With our aging electricity infrastructure, that’s going to continue and even speed up. Make consumers aware of that. Strike fear in their hearts. And then sell them on the stable security of solar.

Just do it.

That’s all for me at the moment. My rant is officially over. Thoughts?

Oh yeah, I have seen a few solar ads over the years that were targeted at the average person. These hilarious Sunrun ones were used on television:

And this 1BOG one was a bootstrapped effort at a YouTube viral sensation:

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

Zachary Shahan has 7295 posts and counting. See all posts by Zachary Shahan