How to Sell an Electric Car: Act Like It’s No Big Deal to Own One
The most striking thing about Chevrolet's new commercials promoting its electric car is that they portray Volt drivers as perfectly normal. In Chevy’s world, Volt owners are not preening super-greenies, and they don’t push their values on others. They just want to save money on gas.
The first ad in the series aired during the World Series; the second is all over the place. It begins with two employees of an anonymous fast-food drive-in arguing over whether the Volt is a gas-powered or electric car. As the ad hammers home, it's both:
In the second ad, the driver and passenger behind the Volt, stuck at the fuzzy microphone after placing their order, get in on the conversation. They want to know how often Volt guy has to fill up. The poor dude just wants his burger, but he dutifully answers, “If I charge regularly, about once a month.” Everyone’s impressed.
What’s remarkable is that neither ad plays up the car’s green credentials. Not all electric vehicles have chosen that route: in this ad for the Nissan Leaf, a polar bear travels many miles from the Arctic to hug a Leaf owner in gratitude for his planet-saving choice. Chevy began promoting the Volt by talking up its electric features, but now its ads features fictional Volt owners who would never evangelize about their cars.
In a slightly older ad campaign, a Volt owner stops at a gas station, and a man holding a large cup resembling a Big Gulp accuses him of coming to gloat. “You’re just here rubbing our nose in the fact that you don’t have to buy gas?” Big Gulp guy asks. But no, Volt guy (it’s implied) just needs to use the restroom.
The ads argue that Volt owners aren't "greener" than other people. Nor are they holier than thou about their choices: They eat at fast-food restaurants. They buy gas. Volt guy will probably order his own Big Gulp before he leaves the gas station.
When the auto industry first tried to sell an electric car, executives wanted to set EVs apart. GM’s ad for the 1990-era EV1, the star of the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, asked “How does go without gas in there? …. How does it go, you will ask yourself? Then you will ask, 'How did we go so long without it?'” The electric car. It isn’t coming. It’s here.” The ad doesn’t make that sounds like good news. The voiceover sounds like it was lifted from a preview for a horror movie in which aliens take over the earth and eat humans’ brains.
Now the electric car is here for real, and the auto industry wants it to seem like a perfectly natural choice to drive one. Chevy isn't the only car company that’s downplaying the radical change in transportation that companies are selling. Prius, for instance, is advertising its plug-in hybrid as one of a number of new options in the line. Priuses are now common enough that the cloud of smug that once hung over the car has drifted away, and the “People Person” ad doesn’t make a big deal about the first partially electric vehicle in the Prius line. “They’re all a little different. Just like us,” the ad explains.
Nothing revolutionary going on here: Plug-in vehicles are just a little different from the gas-guzzlers we’ve driven since forever.