Commercials Sell Plugging In a Car, With Mixed Results

By · October 29, 2012

Most analysts point to limited range and a relatively high price tag as the most important obstacles to consumer adoption of electric cars. Many EV drivers happily trade those shortcomings in exchange for brisk acceleration, cool technology, and especially the ability to avoid trips to the gas station. For them, convenience and saving time is key—a few seconds of plugging in at home easily beats a special trip to the pumps. And yet, instead of focusing on banal but very real EV advantages, ad departments of major car companies use outlandish scenarios to convey the benefits of plugging in.

Of course, successful ads need to capture your attention, often with an outrageous premise. But should they do so at the price of making electric cars seem bizarre or simply confusing viewers with irrelevant content? Judge for yourself, by checking out these four EV ad campaigns.

1Sexual Innuendo Approach: Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

This slightly Orwellian and simultaneously provocative campaign is apparently intended for Japanese audiences—although it’s translated (somewhat poorly) into English. The goal is to get users to download a “Plug-in Championship” app—which makes plugging your phone a game. Insert the plug at exactly the right time to get rockets or alarm clocks to explode on the screen, or a bearded man to spit into the air or Santa to do a back flip. There’s no other reference to the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, except a logo credit.

2Anti-Emissions Approach: Nissan “Gas Powered Everything” Ad

One of the most popular and clever EV ads in the past year is Nissan’s own Orwellian depiction of a world in which everything is powered by gas. In essence, Nissan went negative—portraying all gas cars as pollution machines, rather than extolling the virtues of cheap and easy electric recharging. (Many observers have commented on the cheap shot of using the Chevy Volt in a cameo appearance.)

3Futuristic Approach: New Global Nissan Television Ad

Nissan’s latest ad is running right now. It asks this series of questions: What if you could drive with zero emissions, and never have to step for petrol again? What if you could top up your car on your lunch break? What if your everyday car was an electric car? And what if one day it could power your house?

In this depiction, charging is high-tech. But with vehicle-to-grid at least several years away, and a lunch-break top-ups using the LEAF’s 3.3-kW charger only capable of adding about 10 miles of range in an hour, it’s hard to see how this approach will close the deal on more EV sales.

4No-Need Approach: Chevy Volt Customer Testimonial Ad

General Motors, in its series of customer testimonial ads, has taken the most direct approach to conveying the benefits of charging over pumping. Kory Levoy, a Volt owner, explains why a plug-in hybrid alleviates range anxiety. “To be able to drive 300 or 400 miles and not have to worry about finding an electrical outlet, was probably the one thing that sold me on the car,” he explained. “My daily drive is about 25 miles one way to the office. I get to the office. I plug it in, in a standard 110-volt outlet. And that give me more than enough power and battery in order for me to complete the commute without ever using the gasoline engine.” Of course, plugging in a pure EV is just as easy with a 220-volt outlet, and replenishes range at a much faster pace.


· Bill Howland (not verified) · 5 years ago

The nissan ad is humorous of course, the 'extended range' (hehe) VOLT ad missed an opportunity to directly compare gas cost with electric cost. Not to mention reduced future maintenance. Both costs are at least 1/2 (and maybe even 1/3) of a gas powered car.

The other thing I harp on is how SMOOTH the volt is, or could be in a cadillac variant. But even neglecting these omissions, this is the best GM ad I've seen in years. Too bad it could have been so much better.

Via Trucks doesn't miss the cost saving/maintenance saving angle. They sell the big trucks / SUV's strictly to disinterested businessmen who are worried ONLY about ultimate cost and bundled overall cost/mile. The VIA always wins. The Volt and ELR surely could too.

· Spec (not verified) · 5 years ago


You can market a bit and perhaps increase sales to a niche market of eco-fans or gadget freaks. But for a long term sustainable increase in sales, there simply needs to be a significant value proposition which just isn't fully there yet.

· · 5 years ago


Once you actually own an electric car you see very quickly that value is oozing out everywhere. It just simply reeks of value! It is so cheap to run, so easy to fuel, so quiet and serene to drive. It is supremely efficient yet luxurious at the same time, a perfect combination. I cannot imagine going back to only running ICE. I am a car guy and make my money marketing products to ICE drivers. This is just so much better than ICE for 95% of my driving. For the other 5% I have an internal combustion vehicle but I avoid driving it whenever possible.

· · 5 years ago

I prefer the volt ad, the other ads look too gadjetry.

· · 5 years ago

I'd give both Leaf and the Volt commercials high marks. That older Leaf one, with the gas engines, could run concurrent with the new one. They're obviously very different in their approach, but both effective in their own way.

Why Nissan chose to use this funny situation script for the Altima, instead of the Leaf, is a mystery . . .

The Volt one is a nice personal testimonial, but it would need to be edited down to one minute before it would be ready for standard prime time television airplay. I'm sure the video editors could do that without it having lose too much of its impact.

Notice that the Altima one I linked to, above, is only 30 seconds long. Any of the minute-long Nissan commercial would probably be re-edited at a later date to 30 seconds and live on that way for a while before being retired. Likewise with a future minute-long version of the Volt's. Sometimes, 15 second re-edited versions of commercials like this run their course before a TV ad campaign is completely finished.

· Bogdan (not verified) · 5 years ago

I wonder how Tesla ad would look like.
Unfortunately they probably wouldn't need any ads for another couple of years.

· Sell Car (not verified) · 5 years ago

I have to say i am very impressed with the way you efficiently website and your posts are so informative. You have really have managed to catch the attention of many it seems, keep it up.

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