PSB’S AdLab: Six automakers pitch their electric vehicle to America

March 3, 2022

Electric vehicles are having a moment. Battery-powered cars appear to be having a “breakthrough moment” in 2022 and may finally be moving into the mainstream. The tipping point? Automakers are beginning to sell an electric version of the pick-up truck, whose “arrival represents the biggest upheaval in the auto industry since Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908” (NY Times, 2.8.22). American automakers have been vocal in their commitment to electric vehicles but the market is still nascent with EVs accounting for only three percent of new car sales in 2021.

Messaging EVs to a massive audience. Automakers have made the bet that electric vehicles are the future and they are now tasked with bringing along the American consumer. Given this backdrop, it’s not surprising that six automakers – BMW, Kia, Hyundai, Polestar, GM, and Chevrolet – used the biggest advertising event of the year, the Super Bowl, to talk to America about electric vehicles.

What they said and how they said it. Several of the brands had more complex narratives with less focus on the car and more focus on star power – Austin Powers taking on climate change (GM), Arnold Schwarzenegger and Salma Hayek as Zeus and Hera (BMW), the Soprano kids driving us down memory lane (Chevrolet) and Jason Bateman providing a history lesson (Hyundai). The other two (Kia and Polestar) took a different approach – Kia using a more traditional story and Polestar relying only on text and visuals to get its message across.

Testing the ads. Using PSB’s AdLab copy testing system, we analyzed the six ads

PSB’s AdLab - 6 ads

The findings. Looking across the six ad, all of the ads performed well enough across key metrics. However, Kia won overall (top scores across metrics) and the upstart Swedish brand, Polestar, held its own against well-known auto behemoths.

Simple wins the day. The ads from Kia and Polestar were simple in their approach to educating consumers about their EVs, with no celebrities and no complex stories. Both focused on highlighting their cars throughout the ads, showing it off from various angles and including educational elements.

Polestar relied on brevity and a direct message. It was the shortest ad of the group (30 seconds) and used a text-based approach to highlight what the car is not (including a dig at Tesla) and, in the process, educated consumers on the product. The Polestar ad was effective in drawing viewers in with the lowest skip score of the six ads. It was also the highest scoring on seek info, a full 5 percentage points higher than the nearest competitor. The lesson here may be that for nascent markets, such as EVs, consumers prefer being informed rather than entertained.

Kia went with a simple storyline, including a classic ‘dog chases a car’. Kia’s EV6 catches a robotic dog’s attention as the car’s driver unplugs it from its charging station. Throughout the chase, the consumer is able to see the car from a variety of angles. Just as our new favorite best friend looks like he has finally caught up with the car, his battery runs out. Luckily, the Kia is electric and able to bring him back to live. The familiar scene of a dog with his head out the window closes the ad. The only education the consumer gets about the car is that it is an EV and what it looks like. However, that was enough to standout across many of the metrics. This spot was top scorer on most metrics, particularly around branding and engagement. Consumers found it fit with the Kia brand, and was distinct to that brand. Also, nearly two-thirds (65%) liked the ad very much – a 15 percentage points higher than any other of the six ads tested. The lesson here may be that consumers just want to see the car and understand the basic of what makes it unique – in this case, it is an EV.

The other ads relied on more complex stories that many found entertaining and engaging. However, there was little that helped them standout compared to there more simple counterparts from Kia and Polestar.

More general observation about the upside and downsides of celebrity. Celebrity can be a double-edged sword for advertisers – no celebrity is universally loved, each comes with both fans and detractors. GM’s Dr EV-il spot relied heavily on a 20 year-old IP (Dr Evil from the Austin Power films). While many found it engaging and funny, it also had high negative scores indicating a sizable portion of the viewing audience were turned off by the character, or simply not understanding the joke. The ad did standout on its potential to go viral, but we have to ask will sharing and talking about the ad be only about the characters or will GM’s message of going all-electric by 2035 also be part of the chatter?

For BMW, the ad had similar negative score issues, though not to the level seen by Dr Evil and crew, and without the high viral potential scores. In addition, BMW had a branding issue – its scores on fit and distinctiveness were at the low end. Did the star power of Arnold and Salma get in the way of the BMW brand?

Full report is here.


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