Tesla Should Advertise

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At this point, Tesla has awoken the giants to the need to transition to electric vehicles (EVs). They are slowly coming around due to competitive pressures. But all that being true, we need to drastically accelerate the rate of transition away from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles (gas and diesel vehicles). The easiest way to accomplish this is if the public refuses to buy ICE vehicles. Every automaker would suddenly be caught flatfooted and have to transition ASAP if they want to keep their market share.

Legacy automakers advertise like crazy. Their advertising budgets average a thousand dollars per vehicle or about $14 billion between 2008–2014, a cost that the consumers ultimately pay in a higher purchase price on every vehicle they buy. So, it may sound crazy that I am suggesting Tesla advertise.

Legacy player advertising rests on the premise of selling the sizzle and not the steak. Their ads are incessantly repeated over and over and over, drilling into consumers brains that their cars will bring them eternal bliss (at least until the lease is over). Instead of going into the virtues of their cars, they sell the image, the peacefulness, the adventure, and sometimes some of the specs. It’s like brainwashing.

I do not at all suggest Tesla copy this strategy. It’s expensive and ludicrous (and not in a good way like Ludicrous Speed).

Thus far, EV ads have been almost comical:


[Audi video removed due to broken link since Audi took down their video.]

Consumers learn little about how an EV will benefit them or why they should insist upon them. They are just fed more of the same white noise advertising that they have been seeing all their lives, with a little bit of information tossed in.

At present, Tesla is supply constrained, so advertising may sound like a pointless endeavor. The recent shareholder meeting had the following quotes, which caught my attention and led to this article’s accelerated writing.

Question: News on Tesla is so negative that people are afraid to buy a Tesla. Can you solve through some new communications strategies?

Answer: Yes, 200,000 gas cars catch fire a year in the US, while Teslas rarely catch fire. Elon is at a loss to solve the media problem. It is driven by a crazy disinformation campaign, something like Elon has never seen before (ditto for us). Elon and crew asked that people continue to share their own positive messages about the cars and company — that’s the best solution Tesla has. They also highlighted that safety is paramount at Tesla and that is evident in its record-safe vehicles.

Reflections: The average consumer gets their information from the bothsiderism news, advertisements by the legacy players, and media that is influenced by Tesla shorts and shaped by fossil fuel money. This is not an easy juggernaut to break. The sooner Tesla starts, the further ahead it can get from the expanding smear campaigns that are coming. More on this in a moment.

Question: Where are we on the mission?

Answer: We have helped the auto industry make the decision to move to EVs much faster. The media situation has always been negative, but Tesla is having a strongly positive impact.

Reflections: The goal of legacy players has been to prevent EV adoption, and while Tesla’s accomplishments have already changed the automotive landscape, the current hope is to create an EV demand ceiling by dissuading as many people from EVs and Tesla as they can. Educational advertising instead of incessant legacy-type advertising would be a means to enlighten customers about common misconceptions regarding EVs, given limited public knowledge so far, to correct misinformation with facts and prepare them for the accelerated campaign of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) that will continue to escalate as ICE vehicles continue be threatened by EV expansion.

While Tesla does currently sell all it can build, public sentiment about Tesla and EVs in general is often negative and incomplete, respectively. So far, this has not suppressed demand, but the attacks will continue to become more unhinged until they either fail or find a winning argument to turn a critical mass of citizens against Tesla. Hence, Tesla should get ahead of this propaganda war.

Question: Advertising and marketing — is it time?

Answer: Since Tesla can sell all that it can make, there’s definitely no need for it now. “Advertising would increase spending unnecessarily.”

Also, Elon noted he has an aversion to ads because there is too much “trickery” in advertising. He could do it to counteract things like “our cars don’t catch fire,” but then people would probably be suspicious. But Elon isn’t against advertising forever.

Reflections: Most people still wonder if an EV will have enough range to be a daily driver. They question how to charge it if they can’t install a home charger (destination charging), what happens if they run out of charge (they have never heard of Range Assurance), why an EV is often less expensive overall despite being more expensive to purchase than a gas/diesel competitor (upfront cost vs TCO), whether or not electricity costs more than gas (really!), whether the batteries will last a long time or need replacing every few years (often thinking about their cell phones as a comparison), and so on. For those of us in the know who read CleanTechnica, we have the answers to these questions, but the average person does not (yet).

Hence, Tesla should advertise differently from its competitors. It could run ads showing cost of ownership beating the most popular vehicles on the road (BMW, Camry, Accord, and even competitive with a Focus or Civic). It could run ads showing that the legacy players are smearing the company (with real-life examples) because a Tesla is so much better. It could run ads highlighting how much quicker a Tesla is compared to other cars, or simply run video after video of a new drover experiencing Tesla acceleration. It could run ads highlighting Tesla’s superior safety record.

Done strategically, Tesla ads could help inoculate the public against doublethink, fear mongering, lies, FUD and smears; lifting the veil of what’s really going in in the PR war against Tesla, EVs, and climate change. Meanwhile, Tesla should also have ads that sell the unique features of Tesla vehicles, Autopilot, its safety profile, preconditioning, camping mode, dog mode, sentry mode, range being more then adequate (with examples of which cities can be traversed on a single charge), how the Supercharger network works, and so on. Also, the one-week test drive or return for full refund is unique to Tesla — every potential consumer needs to know about it.

As all these data points are new and concrete it does not need incessant repeating until customers cry uncle. Tesla would be using its advertising as a public service/education campaign instead of the brainwashing campaigns currently in use. Thus, it would cost a fraction of legacy player advertising, not needing to be repeated ad nauseam. It would put all the legacy players on the defensive instead of leaving them in their current offensive plays.

Suggestion: Perhaps a joint discussion with Micheal Bloomberg or Arianna Huffington on your mission, in order to help stimulate better media coverage.

Answer: Elon said that the company does need to take action, and seemed to genuinely consider this idea.

Reflections: While celebrity endorsements are great, an information campaign that teaches people why EVs are in their and the planet’s best interest would be more effective in the long run. Not to say Tesla should not do both — one can sell the sizzle and the steak. Beat legacy automakers on both counts.

I suspect this will be a divisive subject, many will want Tesla to stick to their non-advertising roots, but evolving times call for evolving offensives against alternative facts.

Featured image via Tesla Shuttle

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Barry A.F.

I've had an interest in renewable energy and EVs since the days of deep cycle lead acid conversions and repurposed drive motors (and $10/watt solar panels). How things have changed. Also I have an interest in systems thinking (or first principles as some call it), digging into how things work from the ground up. Did you know that 97% of all Wikipedia articles link to Philosophy? A very small percentage link to Pragmatism. And in order to put my money where my mouth is I own one (3x split) Tesla share.   A link to all my articles

Barry A.F. has 68 posts and counting. See all posts by Barry A.F.