My Car Quest

June 29, 2022

Marketing: Tesla – No TV Commercials, No Print Ads – But For How Long?

by Wallace Wyss –

At the risk of invalidating the first few years of my professional life—where I was an ad copywriter in Detroit–I have come to wonder if automakers advertising their cars on TV or in print is at all useful.

I began to question its worth after studying how Tesla advertises. It doesn’t. At least not in paying ad agencies millions to put on TV and film commercials or by buying print ads.

In my mind, I still have my all time favorite print ads, including one or two I wrote (such as a Chevy ad called The Sleeper Awakes). Two favorites by others are the Mercedes 300SL ad where it showed the new roadster parked next to the old outgoing Gullwing and the guy in the Gullwing was lighting the cigarette of the guy in the

The Sleeper Awakes Car Ad

roadster as if to say “I’m passing on the flame.” Another is the ’63 Thunderbird Sports Roadster ad that shows a rear ¾ of a couple in their roadster—which looks very selfish with its blocked off rear seats because of the hard tonneau cover—out at an estate with an impressive stone fence. It looks like the kind of estate you would live in if you drove such a car (In fact I think I’ve been there, in Bloomfield Hills).

But I digress. I want to get back to Tesla. Tesla has grown into the world’s biggest brand without TV advertising.

The founder of the modern day Tesla (Musk actually bought into an existing firm) ignores the image building of traditional advertising. It is claimed that he does not advertise or pay for endorsements. But I find his professed stance a wee bit disingenuous because he is a sort of PT Barnum of car builders, promoting his companies with every breath.

Mercedes ad

In fact he just bought a substantial chunk of Twitter, a purchase which ought to minimize Twitter trying to censor him. There is a lot of marketing going on at Tesla but not advertising in the sense of commercials or print ads. Detroit thought those were necessary when creating a specific audience for a new model. Such as say my Chevy ad. The headline The Sleeper Awakes was intended to show that yes, there is a Nova that looks innocent but is built for performance. But Tesla gets out the same message that its Plaid option on the Model S is a high performance car by having numerous owners (or are they loaned the cars?) making You Tube segments showing a Plaid dusting off a Ferrari, a Lamborghini or a rival EV. They have no PR office a reporter can call to get a test car. Yet somehow these Teslas are popping up on You Tube. Each segment, when a Tesla vanquishes a much more highly touted more expensive car accomplishes the same as a 5-to-10 minute infomercial. And some of the segments on You Tube say they originate from Tesla? So how can you say they don’t advertise? Those segments did not film themselves?

By the way, one of the latest ones is called “Flying Through GigaBerlin” really mind-boggling–showing a drone flying through a Tesla factory, even flying inside the gigapresses while cars are being made, as if you were following a dainty morsel of food as you swallowed it.

Whereas the old type of ads—the kind I wrote for Detroit–appealed to people who wanted to look like the people in the ads (all handsome men and beautiful women), who wanted to identify with those owner groups. It’s possible that Tesla has a different more cultivated consumer in mind, one that doesn’t need to look like what Tesla thinks they should look like. I would say there are two distinct audiences their publicity is aiming at: 1.) car enthusiasts who like the performance and 2.) The “greenies,” the climate control advocates, who feel that buying an EV car marks them as a true believer in heading the world toward being carbon neutral ASAP. That could apply to almost any brand EV, but those who choose to buy a Tesla demonstrate their belief that Tesla has the best solution so far. Elon Musk is the torch bearer leading us out of the ICE wilderness, don’t cha know?

Ironically none of the Big Three brands, and precious few of the imports at any level, have a leader who generates a personality cult that even approaches 1/100th of Elon Musk’s recognition factor. (Even when Space X has a successful launch he gets a little ink). Maybe back in John Z. DeLorean’s day he promoted his own car which was a car full of mistakes, but his personality helped popularize the car until it all fell apart (don’t worry it’s coming back).

THE WEBSITES DO THE WORK

There are dozens of Websites devoted to Tesla, which are largely 100% pro-Tesla, run by fanboys, one even run by a father-son team who bought Tesla stock early on, presumably enough to allow them to quit their regular jobs and promote Tesla on the net full time.

When I was in advertising I wrote at least one or two showroom catalogs for the Corvette. I remember for one I dreamed up, we had to go out and buy a few old Corvettes and paint them all alike so the catalog could show “Yes, the Corvette might be new compared to say Jaguar but we have a storied past as well.” Tesla doesn’t feel any need to highlight the past, other than the time they loaded a roadster prototype on a rocket ship and shot it off into space.

So Tesla doesn’t need showroom literature. I should say I haven’t been to the few showrooms (technically they are not dealerships because you don’t buy the car there, just learn what can be ordered). But the old schmaltz of hiring beautiful leggy models and chisel-faced handsome men and having them pose with the car in brochures, that’s Old Skool.

Now for Detroit and European and Japanese brands dealerships have an important role in selling used cars and putting the latest model in the showroom. While I said there are Tesla showrooms here and there, I have never seen a lineup of used Teslas out in front of one. The only showroom I saw, in Glendale, CA was in the middle of one of the fancy shopping center built by Rick Caruso, an LA businessman with a flair for the dramatic. It has no cars parked outside in front you can drive. It’s there just to educate you on Tesla.

Rolls Royce ad

WILL MUSK SUCCUMB TO TV ADS?

I think what could change Musk’s mind is when the competition comes up with lustrous TV commercials, say the Cadillac Lyriq, a car that, at $60,000, is less than half the price of a Model X. Of course it doesn’t have gullwing doors but it has pretty au courant styling, lots of pretty lights (the whole car gives you a little light show if you’re the owner and approach it at night, like your dog wagging his tail as you approach your house). Or what about Lucid and Karma? If they keep running print ads showing svelte owners and beautiful multi-million dollar houses, will Musk be tempted?

(Incidentally, Ferrari never used to run TV commercials so I was shocked to see one last year for the Roma. what did it feature? Beautiful girl, handsome man, both with Romas, having a clandestine meeting that looked like it had a lot of romantic potential. So even Ferrari broke the no-commercials image). One of the most restful TV ads I’ve ever seen is a 2015 one introducing the Dawn ragtop. Wouldn’t Teslas have more appeal if pictured in a paradise like that?

Up until now Musk has counted on his unique cars being the attraction, and each one did get a separate audience. But when those other brands come along, offering different shapes, more colors, more interiors, Teslas may start to look “old hat”, as “old hat” as 2022 Chrysler 300 Sedans do, considering the body styling goes back several years and is even built on an obsolete Mercedes design.

Of course, all Tesla has to do is roll out a concept to get tons of ink, but now that the Tesla roadster and Cybertruck are getting old even as concepts this might eventually incur criticism (“Why are you always promising these but not making them?”)

If anybody asked me, I would advise against Musk appearing in commercials as the spokesman. You could get tired of him—as tired as we are of “that pillow guy.” Plus his mercurial moves, (the worse move was selling flame throwers) could at any moment result in bad publicity and then what would you do if his mug was in every ad or commercial?

Maybe the big thing he could do commercial-wise is something like another Silicon Valley wunderkind, the last Steve Jobs, did once for Apple Macintosh, a commercial that implied his latest product has changed the world. One viewer wrote a two line review on You Tube saying “One of the Top 10 best and most effective commercials ever, in 1984 (because) the small but growing percentage of people using computers were very creative and nonconformist, the black & white zombie looking IBM people represented the exact opposite of what they wanted to be.”

Once the rest of the world’s automakers began to build EVs emulating the Testa way, and EVs become the majority, vanquishing ICE cars, it will be possible for Tesla to claim that victory. But maybe it’s too early…

IN SUM…

I kind of miss the old pretty girls-and-pretty-scenery TV commercials and print ads for cars. I have no mental picture of what a Tesla owner looks like. But maybe I should even be ashamed of thinking the fact that pretty people pictured in a car in the past have influenced my buying decision. I should, or we should, be well beyond that now, je ne sais quoi?

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss wrote ads for three automakers. He hasn’t put away his copywriting pen, interested parties can reach him at photojournalistpro2@gmail.com

 
 
 

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Marketing: Tesla - No TV Commercials, No Print Ads - But For How Long?
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Marketing: Tesla - No TV Commercials, No Print Ads - But For How Long?
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If anybody asked me, I would advise against Musk appearing in Tesla advertisements as the spokesman.
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Comments

  1. Wayne Watkins says

    The best car advertisement I ever saw was an old one for a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia , titled THE WORLD’S SLOWEST SPORTS CAR . It made many attempts to break through a banner , but kept bouncing off it . It was a kind of tongue in cheek mockery of all the V8 super cars of the era .

  2. Glenn Krasner says

    Wallace,

    TV ads for cars are thriving, but the old editorial print ads for magazines, except in maybe car magazines, has gone the way of the dodo bird. Unfortunately, the internet, facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, etc. have replaced magazines and newspapers. I ride the subway for my job five to seven times a week, and I am the only person reading magazines, newspapers, and books, although I will see a person about once a week reading a book or newspaper on the train – mostly everybody is just staring down at their phones like zombies. Furthermore, my sister, like you, was in the industry. She was an agent for photographers, hair & make-up people, and clothing stylists who were used to make editorial print ads for campaigns for big companies for newspapers and magazines. This was a huge company she had, and at one point, she even had offers to sell it from big advertising agencies. She refused their money to sell out, because she did not want to work for anybody else after being her own boss for many years. She and her company were even profiled in Crain’s New York Business. It went from a thriving company to a company with no incoming revenue stream, and she had to shut it down and reinvent herself. She is just now getting back on her feet after shutting down the company about 5 years ago. Ironically, one of her last campaigns she got for one of her photographers was for Cadillac.

    Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

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