Question Of The Week

Taking advertising for a spin: What creative ideas can we expect from Tesla and Elon Musk?

With Musk deciding to venture into advertising, we ask what a Tesla ad might look like

By Conor Nichols

A few weeks ago Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that the electric vehicle company will advertise for the first time in its 20 year history.

“We’ll try a little advertising, and see how it goes,” Musk told Tesla shareholders in an annual meeting.

The car brand - very much a pioneer of the long-range electric vehicle - has previously relied on word-of-mouth, quality and the Elon Musk name to market itself. In 2019, the billionaire even admitted to Twitter that “Tesla does not advertise or pay for endorsements … instead, we use that money to make the product great.”

However, Musk’s apparent change of heart points strongly to a submission to the power of commercial creativity. Perhaps greater competition in the electric car industry has also pushed him over the edge - many automakers have increased the share of their advertising budgets on electric vehicle campaigns. Or maybe Musk’s recent purchase of Twitter has forced him to recognise the value of advertising. Since his takeover six months ago, advertisers have fled the social media platform, resulting in a seismic plummet in revenue.

Whatever the reason behind the foray into advertising, we find out what route Tesla and advertising might take from the industry’s best. Will the brand do a Lee Lacocca or a Jonathon Warburton?

Will Musk focus on the features, safety and affordability of the Tesla lines?

Or will we see a fresh take on car brand ads - one of the biggest spenders in advertising?

Charlotte Prince and Loriley Sessions, creative partners, New Commercial Arts

We open on a red planet. A halo of warm clouds surrounds us.

A title types on across the crater. It’s the year 2029.

A vehicle moves into frame, and we cut to a number plate that reads - S.3.X.

Inside we find Shiba Inu. Name tag - Doge. And on the screen - 'My Owner Will Be Back Soon'. The outside temperature reads ​​-81 degrees F.

Bizarre. But you can’t deny, has the ability to entertain … and if we continued (and had a brief of proof points) maybe even informative - the two most important elements Elon wants to bring to Tesla ads.

No matter what you think of Elon and his business decisions - that seems like a pretty good foundation to build thinking on. So fair play.

What is more interesting, is to what creative tone the work will take. What does

Tesla sound like, feel like, present itself as?

In the past, Elon hasn’t been afraid to experiment with his own personal brand, and for the richest man in the world, doesn’t take himself too seriously. But how much will this bleed into Tesla’s work?

We’ve seen hints of it when he launched Model S, Model E and Model X. When he named SpaceX rocket ‘BFR’ (Big F*cking Rocket). When he…tweets.

This brings us to a second point - how involved will he be? Will he be writing the ads? Starring in them? Directing them? Doing it all like Ryan Reynolds? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

But just a small piece of advice, and the most important thing Elon can take into the creative process - a great idea can come from anyone.

Mark Eaves, founder, Gravity Road

Tesla used to be the first car in Space!

These days the only space it sees is the one it stole from you in the shopping mall car park.

It’s become the unthinking thinking person’s BMW.

In the wrong hands the brand could easily - and justifiably - fall down a blackhole of 'soccer-mom' acceptability: smoothing the remaining rough Musky edges into a neutralised Volvo coma.

But scale in automotive always equals vanilla. That’s why Alfas are for freaks.

So instead, Tesla should double down on fart mode and become the first car on Mars.

Choosing to drive a Tesla should never be the easy option.

Alex Lewis, chief strategy officer, Revolt

Tesla are driven by a wonderfully eloquent purpose: to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy.

But those early adopters that led the first wave of Tesla’s success weren’t simply drawn to the eco credentials of the brand. They as much bought into the butterfly doors that turned your SUV into a winged monster, or a central control panel that could have been installed by NASA.

These touches provided the fireworks that pulled buyers in. The sustainability story was the warm fire that kept them there. And any foray into advertising needs to remember this.

I’d start with just one RTB: ludicrous mode. Show the audience what increased peak torque by 60% feels like, and I’ll bet it stirs the soul more than avoiding 55 tons of CO2e over the life of your car.

Of course, Elon will need a brand platform rather than one ad - ludicrous times call for ludicrous mode.

The world is on track for 2.7C of heating with the committed action plans, 1 billion people are likely to be forced to migrate and a £4.3tn annual bill from drought, wildfires and sea level rises is coming our way. Ludicrous times that require ludicrously bold brands delivering ludicrously urgent impact. And Tesla can position themselves at the forefront.

And if they do need a brand spokesperson that encapsulates the spirit of operating in ludicrous mode, then who better than their owner?

James Miller, global chief strategy officer, BBDO

Elon Musk and Tesla certainly have the money to, “try a bit of advertising and see how it goes,” but I’m pretty sure advertising isn’t the solution to what ails Tesla. Elon launched Tesla with a bold vision, brilliant storytelling and deep conviction. He almost single-handedly established the “electric vehicle” category and built a brand with a cult-like following. Tesla’s batteries, charging infrastructure and software brought huge innovation and disruption to the car industry. More recently, Tesla has been forced to focus on the critical but less sexy bits of building a successful car company – production and build quality.

While Tesla has focussed on manufacturing, they have failed to innovate, respond to market demands or update their product. In failing to press its advantage, Tesla allowed the so-called ‘dinosaurs’, some of the world’s finest automotive brands, to catch up. Tesla must now compete directly with powerful brands that can match Tesla engineering, offer more affordable and more luxurious models and build more than just sedans. Tesla needs to re-focus on world-beating technology, innovation and delighting consumers. Once they do that, then, maybe they can think about advertising.


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