Marketing Brand Strategy Environmental Campaigns

Why EV marketing has shifted gears away from green messaging


By Hannah Bowler | Senior Reporter

August 29, 2023 | 9 min read

Incoming legislation means the car industry is going electric, but brands and their agencies are now charged with convincing consumers to make the switch.

Electric vehicle charging bays

EV advertising has to push design, tech and speed – just like any other vehicle / Adobe

By 2030, the US expects half of all new vehicles to be zero-emissions, while the UK government plans to have banned the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by then. The shift to electric is coming, but car companies still have a monumental marketing job on their hands to convince the general population.

When electric vehicles (EVs) first hit our roads, they were marketed as good for the planet and targeted towards sustainability-minded, high-income buyers. Now, EV advertising has to push design, tech and speed – just like any other vehicle.

The crucial difference, however, is that EV advertising also has to educate consumers about practical drawbacks – and persuade them in spite of these.

Amanda Phillips, the regional client lead in Europe for Ford at VMLY&R, says “green messaging has already hit home” and that the incoming legislation means the category job has already been done.

Now, she says, we are moving into the next stage. “That is how you go about running an electric vehicle and it is car companies that need to get people over the psychological and practical barriers.” That is the “pivot” in marketing tactics, Phillips says.

It is worth digging into the potential audience for EVs right now. A study of potential EV adopters in Spain revealed that status was a key motivator for buying one. “Since the price is higher, the appeal is that it says something about you as a person and about your status,” says Phillips. “It’s that feeling that you are in a club – that you are getting a green tick, an early adopter tick and, because they are more expensive, an affluence tick.”

Taking this into consideration, Phillips is now noticing EV marketers taking a different approach and emphasizing tech benefits and features: “EV owners are often seeing the car as an extension of their lifestyle and own personal technology.”

Like Phillips, the BBH strategist on the Audi account, Robert Meiklejohn, agrees that the sustainability case has now been made. And since it’s mandated by law, the switch to EV is happening. Meiklejohn says, however, it is now about how quickly it is happening. “The decision is, ‘When do I move to an EV? Is it now or should I hold off for a year or 18 months? Should I get a hybrid or do I have time to squeeze in one more petrol car?’”

The anxieties about EVs keep shifting: first, it was range anxiety but as cars improved it has moved on to infrastructure anxiety. “Marketers keep trying to pin down the barriers and frame the solutions in a way that makes sense and through content,” says Meiklejohn.

The average car journey is under 10 miles, but an average EV can last between 100 and 300 miles. “But what does 300 miles mean in terms of their everyday life?” asks Meiklejohn. “Can you frame it around the journeys they actually do and make it geo-targeted or localized?” He points to a VW campaign in Ireland that uses the distance between Cork and Dublin (a regular commuting route) for drivers to have a clear reference for range distances.

Although the job is now to educate car buyers through the perceived pain points, Meiklejohn warns brands not to neglect the emotional aspect of owning a car. “The risk is that the category stops doing the emotional category job, as range and resell are very rational messages. My worry is that people know they have to get an electric car but because the marketing can be very rational, they aren’t excited about it.”

The early adopters were energized about switching to electric, he says, and that might be the key to getting the general public on board.

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What are the brands saying?

Hertz is one of the world’s biggest car rental companies but its chief marketing officer, Wayne Davis, wants to move the brand beyond just being about car rentals and make it known for its role in the future of mobility, with the switch to electric its greatest priority. “The Hertz brand has been around for over 100 years and has always been at the forefront of the rental car conversation. As we look to the future, however, Hertz wants to be the center of the conversation as it relates to the future of mobility.”

At the start of 2023, Hertz said it would have 25% of its 500,000-vehicle fleet electric by the end of the year – an increase of 10%. To help reach this goal, Hertz has struck deals with Tesla, Polestar and General Motors. Not content with just upping its EV count, it has been investing in marketing to overcome drivers’ concerns and promote the renting of electric.

Hertz recently launched the digital video series ‘Are We There Yet?’ which is shot in the style of the Netflix show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. In it, Hertz’s chief exec, Stephen Scherr, interviews prominent people from the motor industry while driving around in electric cars – the interviews attempt to dispel common EV fears.

Its executive vice-president of corporate affairs, Liz Bowyer, says: “While electric vehicles represent a transformative shift in mobility, the experience of driving one is still new for many of us. Creating a video series that explores this transition through conversations hosted by Stephen with a wide range of influential people within the industry seemed like a natural idea.”

Meanwhile, emerging US EV maker VinFast just dropped a new 60-second spot, ‘Whoa,’ with actor Joey Lawrence, selling the vehicle based on its design, speed and size of the in-car screen.

Le Thi Thu Thuy, vice-chairwoman of Vingroup and global chief executive officer of VinFast, says: “EV marketing requires a laser focus on enhancing consumer awareness of electric vehicles and their benefits as smarter and more sustainable alternatives to internal combustion engine vehicles.” VinFast’s marketing strategy focuses on addressing consumer concerns such as range anxiety and highlighting the advantages of EVs. “We recognize the importance of not only addressing these concerns but also instilling confidence in our product,” she adds.

As the car industry gears up for the 2030 EV deadline, brands and their agencies will need to up their advertising game to convince consumers to make the switch.

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