Electric Vehicle Ads in the Superbowl Are a Sign of the Times
Investments to generate consumer interest are a positive sign for the electric vehicle market
The Superbowl is not only the biggest night of the year for football but for advertising as well.
A reported 102 million viewers tuned into this year’s game, and Fox charged $5.6 million per 30-second advertising spot. Given their hype and expense, one could consider Superbowl commercials to be a finger on the pulse of the American consumer.
This year, several commercials promoting electric vehicles signal the times are changing for the automotive market. According to research by The New York Times, more electric vehicle ads ran during this year’s Superbowl than any year prior as automakers attempt to spark more consumer interest in their products.
Much has been written by both idealists and skeptics on future projections for plug-in electric car sales. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which publishes an annual report on the global electric vehicle market, predicts that 57% of all passenger vehicle sales will be electric by 2040.
However, there is also a risk that estimates may be overstated. A colleague of mine recently wrote an article comparing electric vehicles to e-books as another “ascendant” technology that did not live up to its lofty expectations and projected sales figures.
Policymakers have long embraced and promoted electric vehicles as one way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air pollutants. State governments, utilities, and private investors are spending billions of dollars to install charging station networks across the United States.
Conversely, while automakers have already committed hundreds of billions of dollars to advance electric vehicle technology and manufacture new models, little investment has been made to date on the marketing side. One study found that automaker advertising for internal combustion engines is 28 times higher than for plug-in electric vehicles nationwide, and 10 times higher in the Northeast and California markets.
Perhaps even more revealing is the fact that many automakers sided with the Trump administration in the attempt to roll back planned emissions standards for vehicles that would make cars more fuel-efficient, less polluting, and cheaper to drive.
Education is key to driving electric vehicle adoption. While there are still significant challenges to electric vehicle adoption, such as range anxiety and cost, research has shown a lack of consumer awareness to be a significant barrier.
Interestingly, the most well-known electric car manufacturer, Tesla, has never spent a cent on traditional marketing and doesn’t even have an advertising budget. Instead, the company benefits from free publicity from social media, customers, and fans.
The 2020 Superbowl was no exception, and CNBC reported ahead of the game that Tesla has become a new status symbol for NFL players. Not everyone can afford a Tesla, however, and for electric vehicles to move from a status symbol for the elite to mass adoption will require more public outreach, education, and good old-fashioned marketing.
The electric vehicle ads aired during the 2020 Superbowl may indicate that automakers are ready to invest in building awareness and changing public misconceptions of electric vehicles. In years past, car commercials aired during advertising’s biggest night have been dominated by clips of German and Italian luxury models, off-roading Jeep Wranglers, and hardworking pickups.
The Ram Trucks “Built to Serve” ad, which ran during the big game in 2018, exemplifies the type of messaging typically directed at the football-watching American public. The commercial depicts images of mudslinging pickups and everyday heroes to the background voice of Martin Luther King Jr.
The 2020 Superbowl was not completely exempt from these conventions, as showcased by Bill Murry’s Groundhog Day commercial parody for Jeep. However, GM, Audi, Porsche, and, in select regional markets, Ford all ran ads selling the quiet power and modern allure of electric vehicles.
If Lebron James promoting an electric Hummer, the ultimate among stereotypical gas guzzlers, is not a sign that the electric vehicle market is nearing a tipping point, I’m not sure what is.
Running a vehicle on domestically produced renewable energy is certainly more in line with American values of self-reliance, resilience, and individualism than guzzling foreign oil. It’s past time that automakers spread that message.