EV ads are becoming a part of the Super Bowl tradition, and this year set a new record, as no less than three EV ads appeared. For those who follow the art form of TV commercials, the Super Bowl is the equivalent of Cannes or Sundance. Ad industry journals, car mags and the EV press all analyzed and criticized the three spots in detail.
It’s interesting that all three ads focused on the silence of EVs, and predictable that only one said anything substantive about the vehicle itself. (Of course, this has long been the norm for auto industry advertising – the Bowl also featured an ad for a Kia gas-guzzler that told an inspiring story about hard work and achievement, but said nothing about cars whatsoever.)
Audi’s Let It Go features Maisie Williams, who played the cute little killer Arya in Game of Thrones, driving an e-tron through a Mad-Maxian hell of traffic jams, smog and shouting fossil drivers. It’s a peppy little spot with some funny split-second tableaus (I like the gas station with the sign that says “closing down”), but, as Car and Driver pointed out, it fails to make it clear that the car Maisie is driving is electric. In fact, it’s hard to call this an ad for the e-tron at all, as the car’s badge is shown only for a brief moment at the beginning. Audi’s description of the ad on its YouTube page makes no mention whatsoever of the fact that “the all-new Audi e-tron Sportback” is an electric vehicle.
In Porsche’s The Heist, a thief steals a Taycan Turbo S from the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, and security guards pursue him in an assortment of classic Porsches. Spoiler alert: the silent Taycan outruns them all. A 20-minute behind-the-scenes video can be seen on motor1’s site. The ad tells a fun story, but again, there’s little indication that this is an ad for an electric car, except for the text at the end.
GM’s Quiet Revolution introduces NBA star LeBron James as the pitchman for the upcoming electric version of the Hummer, complete with a one-minute, behind-the-scenes video.
“Teaming up with GMC to introduce the Hummer EV is a natural fit,” said James in a press release. “Everyone knows about my love for Hummer since high school and I’m proud to be a part of announcing the new EV model. The truck may be quiet, but the performance numbers speak for themselves.”
Of the three ads, this is the only one that makes it clear that it’s talking about an electric vehicle, and that mentions some specs: 1,000 horsepower, 11,500 pound-feet of torque, and 0-60 in 3 seconds – all silent.
On the other hand, as Electrek pointed out, it’s quite a stretch for GM, infamous crusher of the EV1 and ally of President Trump in his war on emissions standards, to present itself as a “revolutionary.” We also find it telling that the company is pushing a vehicle that won’t be produced for another 2 years, and will almost certainly be a low-volume model with a six-figure price tag. Why not run a Super Bowl ad for the Bolt EV, a model that people with lower incomes than LeBron can actually buy and drive today?
Quibbles aside, we’re delighted to see automakers finally advertising their EVs. As the New York Times points out, this year’s three EV ads equals the number that have appeared over the last 10 Bowls. Why have plug-in sales been sluggish to date (1.9% of US auto sales in 2019, according to the Times)? It may have something to do with the fact that automakers devoted only 0.3% of their $8.6-billion ad spend to electric models. That may be changing: Audi says it plans to spend 50% of its global marketing budget on EVs this year, up from less than 10% in 2019.
While we and our engineer colleagues in the EV press may frown on car ads that don’t seem to be about cars, many marketing experts take a different view. “With some of the early electric cars, the message was that you needed to make a sacrifice to help the environment, but you’re starting to see a change in emphasis,” Mark Wakefield of consulting firm AlixPartners told the Times. “Now it’s often about how cool the cars are, how fast they are, how modern they feel. It’s no longer all about saving the planet.”
That’s a little tidbit of marketing wisdom that a certain California company has embraced from the beginning. Ironically, it may just be that the most effective Super Bowl ad is free. Before the big game, CNBC aired a clip in which players from both teams talked about how much they love their Teslas – and no, they are not paid endorsers.