Marketing Electric Cars As 'Medicine' = Fail, Movie Producer Says

Follow John

2011 Chevrolet Volt test drive, Michigan, October 2010

2011 Chevrolet Volt test drive, Michigan, October 2010

Enlarge Photo

Why would you buy a plug-in electric car? To save money on gas? To save the planet?

Maybe. But that's not how they should be marketed, said Hollywood producer Dean Devlin.

"The Volt is an amazing, groundbreaking car," he said. "The Leaf is a gigantic breakthrough--but they're being sold as medicine."

Any advertising theme that conveys a "should" or even a societal benefit is doomed to fail, in his view, because it brands plug-in cars as something that you probably won't enjoy.

Devlin is a long-time electric-car driver, and producer of the noted documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car?

He made his comments during the final plenary session to wrap up the 26th annual Electric Vehicle Symposium in Los Angeles earlier this week.

Awful Volt ads

Devlin had particularly harsh words for a pair of Volt ads.

The first was the Super Bowl ad entitled "Morning in Hamtramck," showing a Volt production line in the streets of Hamtramck, the Detroit community where the assembly plant is located.

Hamtramck Chevy Volt Ad

Hamtramck Chevy Volt Ad

Enlarge Photo

“This isn’t just the carwe wanted to build,” narrator Tim Allen intones, "It’s the car America had to build."

Devlin's response: "Huh?" Are customers, he asked, supposed to be attracted to Volts when the maker says it was forced to build them?

(He also pointed out that the ad hardly shows an actual completed Chevrolet Volt, since it's mostly in-process assembly shots.)

Bathroom = reason to buy?

The other Volt ad he excoriated was one in which a Volt driver is shown stopping at a gas station (something he doesn't do often, obviously) ... to use the toilet.

Ryan Reynolds Nissan Leaf Spokesperson

Ryan Reynolds Nissan Leaf Spokesperson

Enlarge Photo

The Nissan Leaf came in for its share of criticism too. Devlin described a billboard just outside the LA Convention Center showing a Leaf, with the single word "Electric" under it.

"Does Porsche show its car with the tagline, 'Unleaded'?" he asked in exasperation.

Talk about fun!

Instead, he said, the advertising should focus on something that hasn't been talked about at all yet: Electric cars are fun, and better to drive, than gasoline cars.

Surprise and delight your potential buyers, he urged, and show them that these cars will make their lives better, more enjoyable, more rewarding.

Apple iPad

Apple iPad

Enlarge Photo

Play on the fundamental theme that makes cars attractive: "You will enjoy them more."

Consider the ads for the Apple iPad, he suggested. "iPad ads don't talk about the chips," he said. "They talk about how it changes your life, how it adds joy."

Sell 'em like iPads

Devlin's money shot?

"These are the coolest cars in the world. They should be sold like iPads."

What do you think would make electric cars most interesting to a larger market? How should carmakers advertise them?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow Us

Comments (18)
  1. I've always told my friends and anyone else who will listen that there is no reason why an EV can't be shown sliding sideways, wheels spinning, across wet pavement. The first thing I did in my Leaf the morning after I drove it home from the dealer was floor it. You can say "full torque at zero rpm" all you want. Most drivers have no idea what that means, until they actually drive an EV.

    Then they get it.

  2. Bingo. Had another experience of the EV effect yesterday.

    I have a member of staff who (to my shame) was forced to drive the Renault Fluence petrol 1.6l car for a few months. He covers 25,000 miles per year: very high in Israel. I took him to try the Better Place Renault Fluence and he was telling me that if it will save the company money, he'll take it over the Mazda he has now.

    3 seconds after he put his foot down he turned round to me in the back and said "I want this NOW".

    I reckon if he can live with an EV it will save my company at least $250 per month probably more. And he LOVED driving it.

  3. THANK YOU! Don't be afraid to let people in on how much fun it is to drive an EV.

  4. no need for fancy advertising. price goes down, sales go up - pretty simple.

  5. Not as simple as that. Remember "Ask the man who owns one"? Where is Packard now? The kinds of ads they are showing are what you do when you don't particularly want to sell a car. No water pump replacement,or mufflers, or tailpipes, or tune ups, or oil changes, or radiators...never mentioned. People are familiar with these costs.How about "drive 100 miles for $5.00"?

  6. if you look at your history, all the small car companies were gobbled up by the big 3 - cuz they simply cut their prices low enough such that they could outlive the little guys.

    but i absolutely agree with your advertising slogans.

    that is what i refer to as "nothing fancy".

    however, the best advertising is word of mouth.

    and lower prices mean more mouths. simple as that.

  7. I would agree that GM's marketing team has failed Volt's launch... From its lacking of HOV sticker to silly ads.. Volt should be advertised as great ride, quiet and class beat performance hybrid...

  8. we will have a Volt commercial in the philippines soon

  9. Electric Vehicles participating in motorsport will help raise awareness and advantages of EVs. I attended round 1 of the Australian TTXGP Electric Motorcycle racing championship and many team owners and riders of gas bikes want to get into Electric Motorcycles. They said that EVs are the way of the future and for the sport to be sustainable, we have to go Electric.

  10. Yes. Show hot chicks and dudes enjoying their exotic ride. People smiling and driving. Show the cool stuff inside. This car is so cool it has buckets seat for everybody!
    Obviously the people GM has advertising the Volt have never enjoyed it.

  11. I absolutely agree with Devlin's comments. Being a Volt owner, GM's ad campaign has been the car's carbuncle. The only non-embarrassing use of air time is the latest bit that I have seen, a woman saying simply that she just ran all her errands and didn't use a drop of gas...

  12. The most fun I ever had driving a car was when I was selling ZAPs & ZENNs for Environmental Motors. What a hoot! People would stare, & I loved seeing their curious, puzzled faces as I drove by. So inspired by the whole experience, I penned 2 theme songs about EVs. Here are the links - I hope you enjoy them:

    As Tom Fair added with these lyrics: "Electric fever makes you a believer." This is such a true statement. Electric fever is contagious indeed and what we really need to advance alternative fuels!

  13. Save a a Volt.

    Stop sending your money to oil dictators that want to harm us.


  14. can you write a letter on your 1995 Windows based laptop? and send it by dial-up hookup?
    Sure you can. It works.
    Then stick with it. Just like you stick with your dinosaur-juice burning piston motor.
    Or you can stay current. And go Electric
    You have never accelerated so well, so quiet, so civilized
    Once you drive Electric, there is no going back to the dinosaur-juice guzzler. Not even on the cheap
    This is what civilization is all about.

  15. National Plug-In Car Day is coming again, September 23. It will be another major opportunity for "word of mouth" impact to promote EV adoption. In the Sacramento area, we are working to present cars all around the shopping area of one of our "outlet malls" for Q&A and then having a "ride and drive" opportunity in the parking area along with dealers, PV vendors, etc. Earlier in that morning, 6-8 cars will be shown at a local running event to directly expose these options to demographically optimal adopters.

  16. It might be funny to have an Ad, where a guy quietly slides out of the driveway, with his car running in electric mode, to sneak out of the house?

  17. It will be along time before fully electric cars will in vogue due mostly in part because most people today want a rolling living room and den, instead of a transport vehicle which of course drastically increases weight thus requires more power consumption to get things moving resulting in less range per charge etc, etc.

    I regard the hybrid attempt to extend the range of these rolling dens by using gasoline engines as a joke and asinine?

    What is more asinine is that people would buy into this hybrid green scam? You are either totally electric or your not, running an gas generator to power an electric motor?

    I like the in-road induction idea, but that'll take 20 to 30 years of "environmental litigation" before even beginning construction

  18. The most fun I have in my Volt is watching the average MPG go UP with each drive (currently at 116 MPG average). Thumbing my nose at gas stations comes in a close second.

    Here's a commercial idea: Have a family at an amusement park get into a Volt that's on the rails of a roller coaster and show them getting a charge out of passing up all the gas stations along the ride.

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.