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Published on June 7th, 2016 | by Zachary Shahan


Ford Shows Exactly How Hard It Wants To Sell Focus Electric, Via Captain Planet Ad

June 7th, 2016 by  

If some goodhearted, genuinely trying people came up with the new Ford Focus Electric ad featuring Captain Planet, I’m sorry to criticize it, but it is a really lame attempt to sell an electric car.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: People know electric cars are greener. Even if they simply associate electric cars with conventional hybrids (which is quite common), they know they’re greener. You don’t sell cars by telling people that they have wheels and thus can move you from one place to another. Similarly, simply telling someone “this car is green” won’t do the trick either.

In fact, let’s acknowledge the fact that many (completely ignorant) people actually will not buy a car because it’s sold as “green.”

Rolling in a cartoon from the 1990s probably doesn’t help either. “Oh, you are now a big boy (or big girl) and want to get a new car? How about we sell it to you like you’re 7 years old?”

Cute? Yes. Fun? Probably. Effective? Heck no.

As I wrote years ago when I finally drove some electric cars for the first time, these cars are awesome to drive! And it is hugely missed messaging to not convey to lay people that instant torque is a total blast. Aside from featuring that, you could focus on how instant torque makes driving less stressful. Or you could focus on the fact that you wake up every day with a “full tank.” Or you could focus on the joy of never having to go to a gas station. Or you could focus on the super smooth and quiet ride.

Or, if you’re really trying to sell on the “green” angle, make a compelling, shocking advertisement — focusing on the point that the Arctic could be without ice for the first time in 100,000 years this year, and if we keep this up, it could get so hot on Earth that we literally can’t go outside. If you want to play the green angle, you at least have to work to make people better understand what’s at stake there.

But no, Ford tried to sell us on a Focus Electric without referencing the better driving experience (instant torque, smooth, quiet), without highlighting the convenience of home charging and no more trips to the gas station, and without throwing a wakeup call at the consumer. How effective will this ad be? I’m not expecting much, but maybe it’ll have more effect than this one from fall of 2015, which was apparently the first ad for the car after 4 years on the market….

No, I don’t think Ford is trying hard to sell its Focus Electric, even though it competes fairly well with the much-higher-selling Nissan LEAF. (Granted, I’m not saying it is better than the LEAF — but it does have some serious selling points over the world leader.)

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • Matt

    I like this one much better.

  • Bob Fearn

    Normally kids don’t buy cars???

  • AaronD12

    I didn’t bother to watch the advert. I expect the same green blather as always, and based on the comments here, I’m right.

    If Ford emphasized the positives of an electric car, it wouldn’t make their bread-and-butter (ICE vehicles) look very good, would they?

    The Ford Focus Electric is a converted ICE vehicle, and its lack of rear cargo space makes that very evident. Compared to a LEAF, the Focus looks like an also-ran, though, arguably, it has better driving dynamics. That is, until the FFE gets the “Stop Safely Now” message that many of the vehicles have, leaving the car powerless on the side of the road. No, seriously.

    • Calamity_Jean

      FFE? What’s that? acronymfinder.com didn’t know.

  • onesecond

    Wow. I would expect that this kind of advertising is actually detrimental to the sales of electric cars.

  • eveee

    The Focus electric is a quota car that sacrifices trunk space and rear seat using an ICE chassis inefficiently. Starting an ad campaign 4 years after introduction nakedly exposes how little it competes with any purpose built EV. The Leaf beats it, but Ford never felt the urge to advertise until after the Model 3. It looks like a desperation move.

  • Something happened to Ford marketing over the past 4 years and they haven’t quite recovered yet. I don’t know, but people who get and real EV advocates need to be put back on the team… hint, hint @Ford!

  • Bob Vittengl

    Ford needs to either go all in with ev’s that can compete in this market segment, get senior staff, engineers, and sales outlets to embrace this new technology , unfortunately change is hard from inside out and that is exactly what the focus is , an electric car converted from an ice focus. As for this ad campaign , I would hate to see the cost , Until the auto dealers themselves are sold on electric cars , the manufactures are dead in the water. 99.9 % of dealers would by a hemi vs an ev 🙁

  • Joseph Dubeau

    Captain Planet must have some pretty weak powers if all he could mustard up is a Ford Focus Electric. It’s good thing we other people to protect the planet.

  • Maureen jones

    Yet another American who utterly fails to comprehend the power of advertising.

    The advert is brilliant. Think about the demographic it plays to and you begin to realise its power.

    • Huh? I hope you are being sarcastic. 😀

      Captain America was on TV decades ago. Kids watch other things now. And kids are not going to convince their parents to get a Focus Electric because of an obscure old cartoon in a commercial.

      • newnodm

        “Captain America was on TV decades ago.”

        Exactly, it is retro and campy. I like it.

        • Whoops. I slipped with the name again. 😛 Corrected.

          I just assumed Maureen was telling me the kids would like it and sell the car to their parents. But I don’t know, tbh. Not sure what the point was.

          • I took the point to mean that adults who were kids when Captain Planet was a thing (like my kids) will remember the show fondly (as my kids occasionally mention to this day) and thus have electric vehicles brought to their attention via a positive association. But dammit, Jim, I’m an engineer, not a marketing drone!

          • eveee

            Star Trek reference. Ok. How about dilithium batteries?

          • Well, that was my initial guess, being in that demographic, but it’s such a poor attempt that I figured that couldn’t be the argument.

  • Keanwood

    Can we update the title so it says ‘captain planet’ instead of ‘Captain America’.

  • JamesWimberley

    Why don’t Ford revive the Mercury brand for their evs? Selling both evs and traditional ICEVs under the same marque sends mixed messages and inhibits strong marketing – “this is a superior product”. GM has 34 discontinued brands, including Oldsmobile, Saturn and Pontiac.

    • Harry Johnson

      Great idea! And make it a separate business unit so there’s no direct competition with Ford dealers. Saturn for GM and… err… Uranus for Chrysler.

      • Has been what I and others here have been pushing. I just don’t see any other way the automakers can make the changes needed to get the ball rolling at a decent pace.

      • eveee

        Buick Electra?

    • gundersonrogers

      Isn’t mercury highly toxic when re-introduced into the environment by humans?

  • Before you go on a rant about how “lame” you think something is, you should probably make sure there isn’t a glaring error in the article’s title.

  • Kevin McKinney

    I suspect that the main problem is that readers here do not belong to the demographic to which the ad is attempting to appeal. For most of us, it’s hokey. For my nephews, it would be (I’m pretty sure) pleasantly nostalgic, with a side of self-referential irony. It probably won’t move a lot of sales, but might have some effect as a branding exercise.

    • I’m in the demographic. I watched Captain Planet as a kid and liked it. Sure, it is a somewhat nice throwback, but it does nothing to make me want to buy a Focus Electric — neither the educated me nor when I put myself in the shoes of someone who likens an EV to a Prius.

      • newnodm

        You don’t have a car, so you are not in the target audience. 🙂

      • Kevin McKinney

        Ah, then I defer! But your last sentence does echo what I think: it’s more about branding than sales. Than again, you kind of said that in your headline.

  • Freddy D

    “Better driving experience” – the focus electric is, indeed a really nice car and it’s fun to drive. I have no idea why they even bother spending the money producing and airing the ad. perhaps more of a corporate image move than wanting to sell these. There is ample evidence that the “green-oriented” consumer market is fully saturated at about 5% of consumers. Prius and LEAF sales have leveled off and these are the cornerstones of the “I want to show that I’m green” car market. The other 95% want total cost of ownership, performance, flexibility to drive 3 hours away on a Friday evening, style, all the normal stuff. Cue Model 3 and copycats.

    • Bob_Wallace

      We may see Ford and other traditionals pushing EVs and PHEVs during the second half of the year. I suspect that they’ve been selling a lot of inefficient ICEVs due to low gas prices and are starting to worry about meeting their CAFE levels in order to avoid fines.

      Thanks, PBO, for turning the screws a little tighter on vehicle efficiency.

      • Freddy D

        Interesting thought. Focus appears to be a compliance car – very consistent and low volume. Why bother advertising when incentives would probably be cheaper. If they’re selling lots if expeditions and explorers, which it looks like they are, then you’re probably right and they’ll need to move some EVs. They used to just buy some credits from Tesla, but I doubt they’d give Tesla the time of day now that Tesla is a threat.

      • Brooks Bridges

        Just read Jeremy Grantham’s latest quarterly report (GMO.com). Highly recommended. Among other things he predicts low gas prices no more than two years then some big spikes upwards because we’ll have a shortage. His foundation invests in battery and EV startups and he has a reservation on a Model 3. A sense of humor a bit like Elon’s.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I doubt big spikes up. At least any that last very long. We’ve got a lot of potential waiting for prices to creep up over $50/barrel. As prices get close to $60 the rigs should start coming out of the storage yards and begin drilling holes.

          Oil back over $50 should be good for EV sales. Of course it looks like demand is there even at today’s very low gas prices.

  • Scott Jordan

    The title says Captain America, not Captain Planet. Might want to fix that before Disney sues you..

    • Harry Johnson

      Their lawyers are already filing the paperwork. (-:

    • Haha, a lawsuit from Disney would be a fun thing to start the day with. 😀 😉

      • eveee

        It would be a Mickey Mouse move.

  • Adventeur

    lol, totally dating yourself man! that’s Captian Planet.. “He’s the hero, gonna take pollution down to zero. Our powers magnified and he’s fighting on the planets side”

    • Sorry, I watched Captain Planet as a kid. Loved it. Just an unconscious slip in the title. 😀

  • nakedChimp

    They can’t point out all those BEV pro’s you listed, as this instantly will make the remainder of their range look bad – all of it.
    Would be very effective though.. 🙂

    As for what’s at stake.. you know what happens to the bearer of bad news?
    So let’s keep pretending and looking the other way.. something along these lines:

  • Jens Stubbe

    EV’s are not by definition greener than fossil fuel cars when it comes to emissions of GHG and soot etc. whereas it is true that EV’s have less point emissions.

    If you list a large number of strategies to mitigate GHG emissions by cost then EV’s surely will be among the costliest.

    Try doing the calculation of the lifecycle avoided GHG emissions for a investment of a sum in wind turbines versus the same sum invested into EV’s.

    Anyway it is up to the marketing in Ford to decide how they want to go about it, so if they are loosing the game then so be it.

    • JamesWimberley

      We have been here before. The US grid has a low-carbon share (new renewables, hydro, nuclear) of 28%. The fossil generators are much more efficient thermally than cars – 40% for coal, 60% for combined-cycle gas, against 20% or so for ICEVs. So EVs are already well ahead of ICEVs on CO2 emissions, and the ratio will improve greatly over the 20-year life of a new car. (In places like Norway and Brazil, the grid is basically renewable already). It’s true that as a short-term carbon-reducing plan, evs look expensive. But they are an essential part of any strategy to get to net zero, and early deployment drives down costs.

      We should also consider the health costs created by local and regional air pollution with soot and NOX. ICEVs are the prime villains here, as they emit in built-up areas and at ground level. The OECD has estimated $3.5 trillion a year in costs worldwide for outdoor air pollution, the majority from vehicles. I haven’t seen an analysis of the overall environmental benefits of evs (climate plus air pollution), but taking both into account obviously changes the picture in their favour.

      • Jens Stubbe

        I have an ongoing discussion with Mike Barnard and Bob Wallace that have a wrong perception of the carbon footprint of coal power and I suspect that we all agree that Fracking gas also has a much poorer carbon footprint than what is evident if you only measure emissions at the exhaust pipe.

        I most certainly do consider all the factors you list.

        • Bob_Wallace

          No, you aren’t having an ongoing discussion with me over the carbon footprint of coal.

          What you’re getting is pushback from me on claims you make that seem incorrect.

          • Jens Stubbe

            If you want to live with an obvious misconception and purposely decide to spread it around then be my guest.

            In case anybody else reads this.

            CO2 emissions from coal is determined by:

            1. Measuring the amount of carbon in coal.

            2. Measuring the amount of heat you get from burning coal.

            3. Factoring in the amount of electricity you can produce with that coal.

            If you want the full picture you also analyse GHG emissions from mining, storing and transportation before the coal is used and the GHG emissions associated with using cooling water and the GHG level increase due to soot heating the atmosphere.

            Fracking gas is as you pointed out a worse emitter before the gas reaches the power plant.

            If you only consider what happens at typical US power plants then coal emits roughly a factor 3 more CO2. If you include the GHG effects after the pipe it is a factor 4 more.

            According to the alarming numbers you presented in your links Fracking gas is however very dirty to produce, which means the levels for both are very high but the factor differences are smaller.

            If anyone cared to calculate the GHG emissions going into producing a standard US kWh electricity then you would have the basis for determining whether at present EV’s only lower point emission.

          • Bob_Wallace

            There is a whole set of actual life cycle carbon footprint for various electricity technologies. The NREL did a meta study a couple of years back. I think you’ll find them more exact than your back of envelop numbers.


            If you’ll note the median life cycle carbon footprint for coal is roughly twice that of natural gas.

            Now, if you want to claim that coal is responsible for 4x as much CO2 as NG then perhaps you should contact the NREL and straighten them out. But you might want to read the collected studies first…


          • Jens Stubbe

            It would be a blessing if you actually read the report and took it in because after that we would not disagree as much.

            “Consistent values of two coal power performance parameters: thermal efficiency and combustion CO2 emission factor (CEF);

            A consistent system boundary, by addition of coalbed methane emissions from mining in the upstream stage and subtraction of the emissions from transmission and distribution in the downstream stage; and

            Consistent global warming potentials (GWP) (based on IPCC 2007).”

            From skimming the report they do not calculate the GHG effects caused by cooling water and also ignore the heating of the atmosphere due to soot and the resulting increased vapor content.

            Also they do not present US centric figures. So you still need my back of the envelope figures to get a correct understanding.

            If every coalpower plant featured 47% electric conversion efficiency, 40% district heating efficiency, had advanced exhaust cleaning systems delivering fly ash to concrete production and scrubbed CO2 to produce gypsum as Danish power plants does, then coal would not be that much of a menace as it is now.

          • super390

            Wow, you really don’t know what’s happening to the coal industry in America. R. I. P.

          • Jens Stubbe

            It is dying was my impression ?

        • Brett

          Your argument isn’t valid in all jurisdictions, north of the border in Canada most of our power is generated via hydroelectric and nuclear energy (over 2/3rds).
          The lifecycle particulate matter and GHG would be substantially higher for a fossil fuel vehicle vs. an electric vehicle.

          If you want to compare apples to apples, then you either need to compare the direct tailpipe emissions from one vehicle to another, or you need to compare the entire supply chain of one vehicle to another. By relying on fossil fuels, that means a car share in all the emissions related to extraction, refinement, and delivery, including the electricity consumed to produce gasoline and motor oil, the embodied energy in building the refinery, and so forth.

          • neroden

            The UCS has done the apples-to-apples comparison (in the UCS State of Charge report). Most states have a grid which is clean enough that an electric car beats a Prius on CO2 emisisons. All states have a grid which is clean enough that any electric car beats any non-hybrid.

          • eveee

            There are plenty of studies and data. For carbon, only India would have EVs exceed ice emissions.


            There are plenty of studies on the rest of the emissions.


            I expect the solar and wind used on the GigaFactory and the close location of the lithium would reduce the carbon estimate in manufacturing considerably. Going forward, a cleaner renewables based grid tips the scales further in the EV direction.

        • Denys Allard

          It has also been proven & documented by the U.S. geological survey that fracking causes earthquakes.

    • Harry Johnson

      If you are truly concerned about a carbon footprint, the real question to ask is should every person who has enough money own a car? There are 34 nations with more than one car for every two people. Besides a house, few people will own anything as complex and expensive as a car. EV or ICE, all the resources, materials, energy and transportation just to make a car for one person simply isn’t sustainable.

      • Jens Stubbe

        I do not have a car but I have plenty of access to cars. Long time ago I read an article that proved decidedly that biking is faster that driving if you include the time you have to work to keep a car. Besides I like the extra exercise.

        • Harry Johnson

          I haven’t owned a car for 6 years but only because I live where public transportation is much better than owning a car. Most of our modern world has been designed to need cars.

        • The way to live.

          Walking is great too.

          And I enjoy public transit because I like 1) watching society and reflecting on it, and 2) working or relaxing while in transit. But I can understand why many people are turned off by it.

        • super390

          Well, that’s not going to work in Houston. I tried biking to work a few times, and during one of our infinite number of surprise storms I ended up falling over on wet pavement, cutting up my leg miles from home in the dark and destroying a perfectly good pair of pants. Bikes simply are not safe in the rain.

          • Jens Stubbe

            Been in plenty of serous accidents too but have to conclude that I am just unusual unfortunate because several friends have commuted unscratched for years and the yearly statistics for death toll and serious accidents are not that worrying.

      • Freddy D

        Urban living and electric railways are the truly environmental friendly way to live indeed.

        • Bob_Wallace


      • Bob_Wallace

        Many people would probably be willing to not own a car if there were acceptable alternatives. Bicycles and buses are not acceptable alternatives in many cases.

        When we have self-driving cars I suspect we’ll see a large decrease in personal car ownership. If someone can call up a car and have it arrive at their door when they need it and if the overall cost is less than owning a car then why bother owning?

    • jec

      Jens, you are missing the point. It is not about avoiding GHG today, but about developing a technoloy to the point where EVs vil be cheaper than ICEV and the change will happen by itself.
      Remember how expensive wind energy where initially, and what happend to the price per kWh produced. EVs need more development work and larger production volume in order to come down in price. Progress is being made, and I believe that in 5 years, we will not talk about cost of avoiding GHG with EVs but about saving money by saving GHG – thanks to EVs!

    • Freddy D

      To eliminate carbon emissions requires society to “electrify everything” in addition to “wind, water, and solar” generation and efficiency. Renewable generation, as you say, is already the cheapest form of new electricity. Efficiency measures have long been more economical than doing things the current way. EVs have passes price parity for luxury sedans and in the next 5 years will move through mid sized and small sedans. Trucks after that. Much more on the Solutions Project and here at Cleantechnica.

    • Bob Fearn


  • Marcel

    Agreed, that was quite poor. I didn’t even know they sold electric cars… Have not seen one around here.

    • Their Energi models sell very well: http://evobsession.com/electric-car-sales

      But like I said in the article, the Focus Electric was on the market for 4 years before they created a commercial for it. It is likely hidden in the back corner of dealer lots.

      • Even back in 2010, they were always more interested in the Hybrid and Energi models than the pure electric. It was fairly easy to get an Energi or Hybrid loan, but really difficult getting the Electric. They just never pushed it.

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