Tesla’s New Universal Electric Family — Video Critique

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At a time in which Tesla’s newest offering, the Cybertruck, is all over the news, it’s important to remember that Tesla has evolved in many other ways, too, in just a short period of time. When I first started writing about electric transportation, Tesla’s primary audience for its premium all-electric sporty car was white males with an average age of 53. But things have evolved quickly in a few years at Tesla, and now the its audience is becoming more far-reaching, egalitarian, and multidimensional — a kind of universal electric family.

A Tesla YouTube video makes the reach of the company’s new audience clear.

The video begins with an aerial shot over a heavily populated residential area sprinkled with trees in Pasadena, California. As the camera zooms in and down, a voiceover says, “We had no idea how Tesla would change our lives.” The scene shifts to a tan single-story home with an adjacent 3-section carport. For Tesla-in-the-know viewers, the 2 vehicles peeking out of the carport are a Tesla Model X and a Tesla Model S.

The introduction to this Tesla YouTube video, titled “The Electric Family,” resonates alongside the quintessential American Dream. We are invited into a neighborhood that is depicted like many other neighborhoods in the US — tree-lined, detached homes, stable ownership, safe. We are made to feel comfortable and welcomed. The people who live here will be people like us — hardworking, meritorious, determined to move ahead in life.

The camera switches to the interior of the home, and we see a maple wall in the foreground, and, to the back and side, high ceilings, light-filled beige walls, and a sprinkling of furniture with ultra-clean lines and a contemporary geometric aesthetic. In a bright alcove, a blonde female types on a laptop from her perch at a tall table. She says, “I wear a lot of hats. I am a producer for commercials.” Following are a series of quick scene changes: A hand-drawn ruler that notes children’s growth. Family gathered around a long dining room table. The bustle of everyone readying for their day of work or school.

The home is put-together but not ostentatious, clean but not anal, spacious but not sterile. Working in the midst of the family activity, the protagonist of this Tesla video is controlled and confident, moving along with the family’s flow, multitasking easily and successfully.

A closeup of Paige Hutton is next. “I am a mom,” she says, continuing her introduction. She’s a 40-something year old person with a neutral gray sweater, light floral top, and several delicate but haphazardly worn thin necklaces. As she continues to talk, our vantage point moves to within the Tesla Model X, and we watch children playing basketball on a court outside the SUV. We also glimpse the Tesla’s streamlined dash and vertical touchscreen, dark against darker hue. We slide to a new, slightly out-of-focus view of the passenger side exterior and the “signature Tesla” insignia.

The scene of happy family, home life with a caring mom, and upscale Teslas creates a positive association. The smooth environment and the relationships that emerge when life is streamlined and gentile are evident. Patterns of stability and motivation seem to influence and shape these consumer/Tesla brand interactions.

Image screenshot from Tesla video

Todd Hutton speaks next. “In the beginning, we just had one car, and we would fight over who would get to drive it.” He sports a circle beard, collared pale long-sleeved shirt, and crimson tie.

A different early morning kitchen scene appears, with Paige in oversized blue sweatshirt guiding and supervising her elementary-aged son as he assembles his backpack. “So the rule was,” she explains, “whoever was driving the farthest got the Tesla.” An older sibling grabs a Golden Delicious apple, and the 5 family members exit together. It’s a little past 9:00 am. “And now we’ve added a Model X to our family.” The words “Electric family” are centered on the screen against a black background.

With increased prosperity, Paige and Todd have been able to add a second Tesla to their car ownership. In a kind of consumer ethnocentrism, the Tesla brand has become an icon of cultural familiarity to this couple. We now live in an era in which brands need to look actively and purposefully at our multifaceted popular culture to best inform how they should position and integrate themselves into the daily lives of their target audiences. The Tesla brand, in essence, has become a part of that culture for Paige and Todd, deepening its relevance and connection with them as customers — and, by extension, us. 

Image screenshot from Tesla video

Upbeat and contemporary instrumental music punctuates the scene. Slowly, a black Tesla Model X glides out from the carport. It’s been summoned to meet the family in the driveway. The boy zips ahead with exuberance and uses the momentum of his run to lunge into the door handle. He smiles with accomplishment as the door swings open.

“We’re a very busy family,” Paige allows, “so we have to travel a lot everyday.”

The next frame shows Paige driving the Model X behind Todd in the Model S. As they turn toward different directions with blinkers flashing, they each wave then merge separately into morning commuter traffic. We follow Paige down a tree-lined residential street with an arid hillside in the distance. The video camera lens pulls out to an overhead of a 10-lane highway with the text “Paige drives over 150 miles per day” superimposed on the screen.

“Paige drives a lot everyday,” Peter’s voice interjects, although he is not in the scene. “We never know where she’s going to be going.” We follow along with her as she drives the Model X, variously chatting with her happy children and coming to full stops at stop signs. They reach their destination, the falcon-wing doors pop open, and the smiling lad runs toward his school and friends.

Traditionally, the dominating social role of the woman was as housewife and that of the man was focused on work and family maintenance. Today, social role activation of women as professionals has shifted consumer trends. Gendered social change is reflected in the media and in consumer culture — as this Tesla video attests. Yet, it is Peter who explains the family’s compromise options as joint dyadic decisions. He reinforces their collective decision to accept higher initial Tesla costs in order to realize long-term financial gains. 

Image screenshot from Tesla video

“I use my Model X,” Paige offers as overhead shots of the highway bustle now emerge, “like my office. I do a lot of conference calls.” She slows at a gate where a swing-arm security center allows her to enter. After she stops, she opens the rear hatch and pulls out a laptop, then two males listen to her presentation. “Autopilot lets me do that. When it’s bumper to bumper, I can put it on Autopilot and know we can be safe.” She is back on the highway, hands on the lower section of the steering wheel as she moves through traffic.

In a switch to another day and place, Paige pulls over to the curb, and her young son draws “Tesla” and an original illustration on the touchscreen.

“Charging has never been a problem,” Peter interjects off-screen.

Paige takes over. “Todd likens it to charging your cell phone.”

We next see her back at the dining room table, dictating a message into her cellphone. Behind her on the wall is a large retrospective image of a red 1956 (?) Thunderbird, which is smothered with shaving cream and surrounded by close-cropped males in black-and-white tuxedos.

Consumers are influenced by their environments in psychological ways that include how motivation and decision strategies differ among products, depending on the level of importance or interest they entail for consumers. Since all media messages are consciously designed, the inclusion of the historical family photo — which focuses around a different auto at a pivotal moment — serves as counterpoint to the “Electric Family” video and the allure of a Tesla lifestyle. Family is one of the most influential groups for consumers, and it includes the buyer’s parents, who make up the family of orientation toward religion, politics, and economics. Parents also provide a sense of personal ambition, self-worth, and love that informs our identities and contributes to our consumer beliefs. Our inference here is that the family has a rich legacy of car as a valued asset, and the acquisition of two Teslas continues that respect for a well-made and memorable family car.

Image screenshot from Tesla video

The boy, meanwhile, bounces a basketball in the garage between the two Teslas. He casually unplugs the charger from the Model X, pops open the port on the Model X, and plugs it in. In a subsequent scene, we move with a group of elementary children up an exterior cement stairway and toward the Model X as the falcon wings open. They hop in, and the car drives along the city street. “I don’t think there’s another car out there,” Paige interjects, “that gets better the longer you own it.”

We see the children inside now, all buckled up in their similar white or navy short-sleeved polo shirts — two male and two female children, likely of three different ethnicities. They’re smiling and having fun as the Model X zips along the California highway, with bridges and low mountain ranges in the background.

There are three main elements that directly affect family consumption habits. They are family life cycle, the structure of the family, and family decisions making process. Clearly, the Tesla in this video is at the core of positive family interpersonal and community-based interactions. There is much evidence linking the quality of technology exposure children receive during their childhood years to health, the level of education, and improved economic outcomes during adulthood. By having intimate familiarity with their family Teslas, the children in this video will be able to apply technology knowledge and practical skills toward good decisions in subsequent automotive, home, and community technology challenges they may face in the future. 

Image screenshot from Tesla video

Todd adds that “the performance is amazing. The technology is amazing.”

“That’s a huge testament to what’s important to me,” Paige acknowledges, “for my family.”

“That’s why we like Teslas, ’cause they keep up with us,” Peter says, to which Paige adds, “I love that.”

With the car zooming along, a series of print statements spins across the screen: “Paige is: a proud mom, a video producer, a location scout, a business manager, an event coordinator, an interviewer, a conference organizer, a risk taker, a supercharger, a traveler, and …” with a beam of late afternoon sun piercing the scene, “a Model X driver.”

The video ends with Paige, Tim, and their son standing proudly, smiling at the camera, flanked by both Teslas. “I’m Paige,” she reminds us, “and my family is an Electric Family.”

This Tesla YouTube describes an electric family that might be considered universal. After all, it embraces an eco-cultural approach that focuses on children’s play and learning alongside the Tesla Model X, which embodies electric transportation as a cultural norm. The video identifies that Paige and Todd’s home contains a unique mix of environmentally-conscious inhabitants, learning opportunities, and resources. This family’s cultural beliefs have given rise to a complex set of sustainability practices, values, and attitudes through their intersections with Tesla technology and support in the home.

Yes, the family chronicled in this video is upper middle class, financially secure, and able to balance family interactions with work responsibilities. They represent white privilege, sure, but the dominant voice of a female protagonist — with some male voiceover support and reinforcement — points to a changing Tesla consumer base. A shift in emphasis to parents as partners in financial automotive technology decisions is explicit in this video, leading to the purchase of two Teslas for everyday transportation. The Teslas foreground relationships between family and technologies for home and life and are pivotal possessions that support an environment made up of both social and technological dimensions. Eco-cultural values are modeled and transmitted through the Hutton family’s relationships via their Teslas. 

With the onset of this Electric Family is the implication that other constituent groups will methodically become part of the Tesla consumer base, so that more women, consumers of color, LGBTQ individuals, and other traditionally marginalized and underrepresented groups will join the Tesla Electric Family. The role of the home and its intersections with the developmental, social, material, and economic aspects of our daily lives is central to issues around the existential crisis that humans face due to the climate crisis. The “Electric Family” video examines ways in which Tesla as a brand can influence the opportunities to survive that tenuous future. 

Image screenshot from Tesla video

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a Model Y as well as a Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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