Chris Simpson

Semper letteris mandate

Prius gets it right — with the help of a Contrarian

flintstonescar.jpg image by tikibird27

I guess some people just care more about the environment than others.

A few days ago we looked at the Prius commercial, “Futurewow,” in which a Prius drives the streets of the city while onlookers whistle a tune whose message suggests that we’ve got plenty enough nature and don’t need any more. (Prius ad says, “Enough with nature, already!)

Now I’m happy to report a spot that gets it right.

The new commercial, created for the NorCal Dealers Association by the Hoffman/Lewis agency, follows their previous “Yes” campaign, which focuses on the high percentage of Prius owners who say they would buy it again. In the new spot, which strikes me as more powerful, people speak about its special features. Rather than promoting the vehicle solely through a message about the advantages to the environment, such as Saatchi’s “Harmony” ads in which the landscape turns green as the car passes by, the Hoffman/Lewis spot promotes it by means of a message about the advantages to the owner.

Huh. Advantages to the owner. Imagine the concept.

But there’s no surprise there, considering that the Hoffman/Lewis agency has established, and operates under, the three principles of Performance-Based Advertising, as outlined in their book, The Ad Contrarian:

  1. Advertising is most productive when it is focused on changing behavior, not attitudes.
  2. Advertising messages should be created for, and directed at, the heavy-using, highyield customers in your category.
  3. We don’t get them to try our product by convincing them to love our brand; we get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product.

This is in almost direct opposition to the average Prius campaign, as exemplified by the recently launched “Harmony Floralscapes” promotion along Los Angeles freeways — a roadside display (consisting of 20,000 flowers grown by local businesses in “Eco-crates”) meant to accompany its “Harmony” ads.

Here’s an excerpt from their press release:

The Floralscape is one of nine oversized floral designs that will appear alongside California freeways in support of the ongoing launch of the 2010 Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle. Seven of the Floralscapes will be in the Los Angeles area and two in the San Francisco area. Developed by Greenroad Media, Inc., using the company’s patent-pending “Living Pixel” technology, design images are replicated using flowers of differing varieties and colors.

If you’re confused about whether they’re using live flowers or something called “Living Pixel” technology, or a combination of the two, join the club — PR writers take special courses in obfuscation. But let’s look at it from the standpoint of Performance-Based Advertising.

  • Advertising is most productive when it is focused on changing behavior, not attitudes.

The Floralscape promotion is obviously meant to bring attention to an attitude. There is nothing here that compels, or even seduces the consumer to actually change behaviour (i.e., purchase a Prius). The purpose is solely to promote the brand as being eco-friendly — a feature which, in the present market of eco-friendly cleaners, bathroom tissue, light bulbs, and drain cleaners, is becoming less and less of a distinction.

  • Advertising messages should be created for, and directed at, the heavy-using, highyield customers in your category.

Floralscapes, like the accompanying “Harmony” ads, are aimed directly at the ecologically-conscious consumer. But while there is a growing concern among car buyers about the effect of their vehicles on the environment, they are still, by and large, not a group given to hugging trees. Typical car buyers are going to look at performance, gas mileage, cost, and convenience first. This is not to say they’re ignoring the emissions angle, merely that it occupies a place further down their list of essentials.

  • We don’t get them to try our product by convincing them to love our brand; we get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product.

This entire campaign is aimed at getting people to love the Prius, and in doing so, will appeal mostly to the converted, while inevitably alienating those who feel put off by the perceived self-righteousness already associated with the brand. (“Well, I guess some of us just care more about the environment than others.”)

I can’t begin to estimate the cost of the Floralscape, but I know the “Harmony” ads accompanying them must have been pricey. And nothing sparks the slightest impulse in me to even look at a Prius.

The Hoffman/Lewis spot, on the other hand, has already told me more about the product than all the other ads put together. If you drift, it puts you back in your lane. It uses radar to keep you a safe distance from the car in front. And it parks itself at the push of a button.

That, plus 50 mpg begins to give me a warm feeling towards the product.

Not enough to counter-balance all the smug, guilt-based advertising I’ve already seen for the Prius, but it’s a start. It’s a start.

Originally published in Ad Nauseam: Online, 2009
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