Tesla is unique among its competitors in the auto industry in the way that the company does not advertise its vehicles. Despite this, Tesla maintains a strong brand, with competitive intelligence analysis firm BrandTotal noting that the electric car maker’s organic social media engagement exceeds that of other automakers who utilize paid ads on platforms such as YouTube and Twitter.
Part of the reason behind the strength of Tesla’s brand is a close-knit community of owners and enthusiasts who are passionate about the company’s products and mission. These, as well as factors like CEO Elon Musk’s celebrity status, has allowed Tesla to become a prominent brand mostly through word-of-mouth. This has worked for years, though considering the current climate surrounding the company, it might finally be time for Tesla to seriously consider advertising its vehicles using more traditional avenues.
A successful misinformation campaign
A quick look through comments in news sites and social media would reveal that there is a lot of misinformation surrounding Tesla and its vehicles. Even at this point, there are still a notable number of people who peddle the long tailpipe argument, and the belief that Teslas are more dangerous than internal combustion cars is still prevalent. Add this to the constant talk of the company’s alleged demise that’s supposed to be just around the corner, and one can see just how much noise is surrounding Tesla today.
Tesla has always been polarizing for mainstream media, though it is difficult not to notice that the narrative surrounding the company has gotten more negative over the past few months. A pervading negative slant from mainstream coverage has become notable lately, as is a dismissal of breakthroughs from the company. A perfect example of this could be found in the little coverage being given to Gigafactory 3’s potentially record-setting buildout in Shanghai, and the close coverage given to every Tesla fire or accident.
It’s unfortunate, but these add to the misconception that Tesla is consistently a hot mess, or that its cars are equally bad, or that the company is being led by an unstable leader who’s but a few steps away from being mad. These are, of course, untrue, but it would take the layman a lot of effort and research to reach this conclusion. At this point, Tesla needs a way to battle and correct the misinformation surrounding itself, and the perfect way to do this would be through actual advertisements. In this light, ads promoting and explaining Autopilot could be at the forefront of this initiative.
Setting the record straight
Partly due to the misinformation surrounding the company, Autopilot is at times perceived to be a full self-driving system that allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel. Both assumptions are incorrect, of course, as Tesla specifically informs drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel and be ready to intervene at any time when Autopilot is engaged. The Tesla community knows this. The public? Not so much.
Perhaps Tesla can actually run advertisements showing what Autopilot is (a driver-assist system) and how it’s supposed to be used. Doing so not only raises awareness of the feature’s real nature; it also dispels the notion that the company is pushing a dangerous self-driving software on the road. If the layman is saturated with the correct information about Autopilot, then there is a good chance that he will not openly accept misconceptions about the system, nor will he be “misled” by the feature when he uses it.
The same is true for the vehicles’ safety. Tesla’s entire lineup of vehicles are among the safest cars on the road today, but the insistent coverage of crashes involving the company’s vehicles would suggest otherwise. An ad campaign surrounding the safety features inherent in electric cars, such as their huge crumple zones due to their lack of an engine, would help the company spread the word that its vehicles are safe.
Even over-the-air upgrades such as Sentry Mode could benefit from an advertising push. With the general public knowing that Teslas are capable of recording footage, fewer vandals or thieves might attempt to break into the company’s electric cars. Ads could also help dispel the public’s reservations about range and charging, as well as debunk the ridiculous misconception that Tesla’s are less “American” than the next Ford or GM truck. These are but the tip of the iceberg.
Beyond word of mouth
Overall, word-of-mouth is an incredibly powerful tool, and it has served Tesla well. With the company entering the mass market with the Model 3, and later on, the Model Y, the time might be right for Tesla to start adopting (at least to a certain degree) information campaigns that are effectively used by its competitors. Teslas are among the safest, most advanced, most fun vehicles on the road, but until the public becomes fully aware of these, the company’s electric cars will mostly remain as niche vehicles. With the right information, perhaps the public will finally perceive Teslas the way they are meant to be perceived — as vehicles designed to accelerate the shift to sustainable transportation.
Think of it this way. Tesla’s brand has reached this point with word-of-mouth alone. Just imagine what it could do with a boost from smart, targeted advertising campaigns.