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

“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

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

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.


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