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Brand Strategy Tesla Automotive

Can Tesla keep defying marketing gravity?


By Dan Gregson, Strategist and founder

July 9, 2024 | 6 min read

There was a time when Tesla product was hyper-focused on what customers wanted. Those drove unprecedented word of mouth and loyalty. In 2024, that feels like a distant memory, according to brand leader and creative Dan Gregson.

Tesla signage on the outside of a factory

The run-rate of Elon Musk-related stories across the Western media is relentless.

If he’s not going to war with the Tesla shareholders about his $48bn pay deal (yes you read that right - forty-eight billion dollars - and latest - they approved it), then it’s sacking the entire marketing department (the one he said they’d never need but hired anyway less than a year ago).


Too generic.

So Musk, who proudly declared in 2019 that “he hates advertising,” didn’t see much in those TV spots to change his mind about ads.

Now, it’s fair to say I don’t hate ads as much as Musk (the opposite, in fact) - but if you’ve not seen them, you’ve not missed much. If you have seen them you’ve probably forgotten about them.

The TV spots are utterly generic, use the most basic and formulaic of automotive ad tropes (which it’s fair to say there are plenty in the car world), and I think would make anyone who’s already got a Tesla feel a bit of an idiot and anyone thinking about buying a Tesla, think again.

But Tesla has been a brand that defies logic or conventional market (and marketing) wisdom.

At one point in 2021, the Tesla business was valued in excess of $1.2tn (basically more than the other major players added together), yet at the same time, it was manufacturing just 1% of the global automotive market.

So the question is, what can we learn from a brand and business that is so asymmetrically successful? Much of this success is due to first mover advantage and the company's use of the regulatory trading system to effectively force its direct competitors to bankroll the business.

The further you put proper marketing thinking and creativity into the business and into the brand and product experience itself with a true focus on the customer, the more you can create a lever that can lift more for the brand for longer.

Tesla Dog Mode is a great example. On the surface, this could look like a gimmick. And it might have started that way. But Tesla made it happen and shipped a feature that the powers-that-be in a conventional OEM would not have even had a first discussion about never-mind focussing energy and resource on making it happen.

But if you view Dog Mode through the lens of understanding real customers’ pains/gains and, alongside that, develop a subsequent needs state analysis - then helping dog owners who basically love their dog as much as anything else on the whole planet - can become a massive brand opportunity.

An opportunity to be customer-led, technologically-led, creative and an outcome being different and distinct to the competition. Not bad.

Now, the interesting thing for Tesla is that this happened when the conditions were right for it and when the leadership of the business was actually interested in hearing what real people are thinking about in their life. I’m not sure it would happen now for Tesla in 2024 (for a whole bunch of reasons) but if you want to make your brand connect more deeply with people who might one day spend their money with you - Dog Mode is a much better marketing effort than those way “too generic” TV spots because it’s relentlessly focussed on the customer.

Time will tell whether Tesla will continue defying gravity or whether it’s a brand that’s jumped the shark and is coming crashing to earth.

Brand Strategy Tesla Automotive

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