Electric Cars and Butterflies Don't Mix

By · January 26, 2011

Ed Begley Jr. and Butterflies

Image from Ford's video about electric cars, starring Ed Begley Jr. and the butterfly.

What is it going to take to market electric cars to the masses? How can car manufacturers "cross the chasm" from early adoption to early mainstream for their new plug-in vehicles?

Here's a secret: Don't use butterflies (or Ed Begley) in your marketing materials. This is a sure way to get your plug-in car stuck in the "green ghetto."

At this year's Detroit Auto Show, Ford revealed a new promo video for their upcoming platform of plug-in vehicles. The PluginCars.com community responded to the video a couple of weeks ago.

From a framing perspective that looks at how people understand messages, Ford fails big-time on this. How?

Confusion: The video starts off talking about how people and the media may be confused about electric cars. Starting off with "confusion" has the potential to reinforce that notion rather than promote clarification.

Polar Bears and Treehuggers: As I've stated elsewhere, the polar bear image has limited resonance among the general public. Polar bears do not motivate masses of car buyers. Scenes of sexy people and thrilling ride experiences do.

Economy vs. Performance: The entire video focuses on environmental benefits from increased fuel economy. There is nothing on the incredible performance factor of these cars. People want economy AND performance. The "EV grin" experience is real, and may be a huge motivating factor for potential buyers.

Where Does Ford Get It Right?

I love the inclusion of the LED dashboard and the use of butterflies to signify range. I think it is important to show that these cars offer next-gen technology to measure energy usage.

Including the SmartPhone app is also a smart choice. As mentioned in recent research, my generation in particular wants an "Iphone on Wheels." Emphasizing the technological advances of electric cars is a HUGE motivating factor.

Nissan LEAF polar bear commercial

Image from the most famous Nissan LEAF commercial, which managed to feature both a polar bear and a butterfly.

Cost savings in energy usage is also important. I'm glad that Begley mentions "saving green" when talking about the use of the SmartPhone app to monitor when the car is charging.

Ford is taking the right approach in creating a whole platform of electric vehicles "for every driver," but the extensive use of the butterfly metaphor throughout the video limits the appeal of their cars. If Ford is only interested in attracting the green consumer, then images of Ed Begley playing with butterflies may have a certain amount of resonance. But for most of us, the last thing we want to be associated with is an old dude that makes cleaning products.

I want to see Ford succeed in this space. I think they have killer products that have the potential to expand beyond the crunchy Prius market. For that to happen, it is going to take a more strategic communications approach to appeal to the mass consumer market.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.