New 'EVs are better' ads: how electric-car marketing should be done

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People buy electric cars for many different reasons, only one of which is the environment.

Others include their quieter, smoother performance; the immediate torque; the desire to have the very newest and most advanced technology; and the lifetime cost savings.

These diverse motivations apparently pose a huge challenge to the best marketing minds in the automotive business.

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From the notorious "Volt dance" to Nissan's memorable polar-bear hugging an early Leaf owner, much of the marketing for electric cars has been focused on their benefits for the environment.

While accurate, carmakers won't sell a lot of cars by peddling them as a public service.

Or as movie producer Dean Devlin memorably suggested more than five years ago, any advertising that conveys a societal benefit is doomed to fail, because it conveys the message that electric cars are something you probably won't enjoy.

'Gas Butler' electric-car marketing video from FleetCarma #EVsAreBetter campaign

'Gas Butler' electric-car marketing video from FleetCarma #EVsAreBetter campaign

Enlarge Photo

Enter Matt Stevens and the gang at FleetCarma, which provides telematics and tracking for fleet managers, with a focus on sustainable and zero-emission vehicles.

In the years since that Nissan polar-bear commercial—which he loved—Stevens has accumulated lots of experience trying to persuade buyers, especially fleet managers, of the strong case for buying electric cars.

"The environment didn't work," he said. Instead, potential buyers proved more receptive to hearing about the benefits of the vehicles, some of them impossible to obtain in a gasoline car.

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The following points about electric cars, Stevens said, resonated with buyers:

  • fun to drive
  • very little maintenance (i.e. 150,000 miles before the first scheduled powertrain maintenance on a Chevrolet Bolt EV)
  • starts every day with a full tank (we made a shirt that was a big hit, saying, "I miss gas stations.  —said no EV owner ever.")
  • fast, smooth, quiet driving

"It shocks me, even today, how few people know about these benefits," Stevens said. In his view, increasing sales means explaining to shoppers that electric cars offer more than regular cars—and just happen to be green.

'In the not-too-distant future' electric-car marketing video from FleetCarma #EVsAreBetter campaign

'In the not-too-distant future' electric-car marketing video from FleetCarma #EVsAreBetter campaign

Enlarge Photo

Stevens said FleetCarma has wanted to make ads that highlight these benefits for several years—and now it's done just that. 

When the company embarked on a series of programs for electric utilities that focused on electric-car owners, it could finally justify the budget required to get them made.

Two of the videos are embedded in this article, and you can see the entire series on the "EVs are better" page on FleetCarma's site.

CHECK OUT: Hydrogen marketing campaign suggests, 'Let's clear the air' (Oct 2016)

Stevens acknowledged the challenge for every automaker except Tesla: " I realize that it's hard for a carmaker to say that the technology in cars that make up 2 percent of its sales is better than the tech in 98 percent," but he chooses to remain optimistic.

"While I'd love to drive more sign-ups for Smart-Charge New York," Stevens said, the real win would be for at least one marketing executive at a carmaker to see these—and focus their  next ad on why electric cars give a better driving and ownership experience.

Over to you, daring marketers who want to move beyond clear skies and polar bears ... how would you advertise that #EVsAreBetter?

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