Electric vehicle ads go mainstream at the Super Bowl
Whether it was the Los Angeles Rams’ 23-20, come-from-behind victory over Cincinnati in the final two minutes, the star-studded half time show, or the commercials peppered with references guaranteed to make any elder millennial nostalgic, this year’s edition of the Super Bowl was one for the books.
Automakers really stepped up their advertising game this year. From BMW, GM, and Nissan’s celebrity-rich blockbusters, to Chevy’s nostalgic Sopranos throwback, to Kia’s adorable “Robo Dog,” there was something in these EV ads for everyone.
We’ve written in the past about how for a while, auto – and particularly EV – advertisers tended to lean into hyper-masculine themes, emphasizing their power and acceleration with muscular spokesmen, with barely a mention of the climate benefits of going all-electric. Last year, Will Ferrell even started an imaginary feud with Game of Thrones star Kristofer Hivju over per capita vehicle ownership in the United States and Norway.
Yet as electric SUVs have entered the market, advertisements have started to shift to feature women drivers, and to highlight the safety, efficiency, space, and comfort of the vehicles. Through it all, climate has remained on the sidelines in the list of advertised EV benefits.
Not this year. Climate change is center stage in General Motors’ 90-second ad spot, which even includes the direct quote, “Climate change is arguably the number one threat to the world now.” That threat was even more front-of-mind with climate change-fueled record high temperatures baking Los Angeles throughout the game.
GM’s statement is spot-on, and reminds us why it’s so essential that we tackle transportation emissions, the top-emitting sector of the U.S. economy. Getting to a fully zero-emission vehicle fleet by 2050 is key to cutting our nation’s emissions and avoiding the worst effects of the climate crisis.
But EVs are also fun to drive, as regular “ZEV Clips of the Week” readers know. I can attest this from a recent spin around the back roads of New Hampshire in a Tesla Model 3. And BMW’s Super Bowl ad, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Greek god Zeus and Salma Hayek as goddess Hera, is just plain fun. The pair of “gods” retire to a community in Palm Springs, California where Zeus just can’t stop feeling all his lightning bolts of power are wasted – until he meets an all-electric BMW. While the ad falls back on classic tropes of objectifying women to advertise cars to men, it captures the very specific feeling of finally finding a car that can keep up with you, and says very clearly that an EV is the answer.
Women weren’t without an ad of our own. The Kia EV6 ad – featuring an adorable “Robo Dog” who chases after a man’s Kia e-SUV only to run out of battery just as it reaches him – pulls on the heartstrings without losing its light-hearted touch, and plays to traditional themes intended to market toward women.
But what I was most excited to see was the first-ever Super Bowl ad for a home charging system, Wallbox. The quirky 15-second spot shows viewers an example of easy, sleek, safe home charging, and gets at the anxiety some drivers may feel about their ability to keep their car charged if they make the switch to electric.
Access to charging – whether at home, where most EV charging takes place, or in public, especially along highways – is essential to making drivers feel confident that their EV can meet their needs. Public charging access is growing rapidly in the United States, but there is a long way to go. Recently, the Biden Administration released new guidance on how $5 billion in dedicated funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will be used to support the build-out of a nationwide EV fast charging network over the next five years.
At the same time, to really commit to a zero-emission future, we need more funding for EV purchase incentives and commercial charging equipment support. We must also decarbonize medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, develop hydrogen and other alternative fuel technologies, and enact other climate and energy priorities in the Build Back Better Act. Twenty-seven companies joined us recently to call on Congress to enact key climate provisions in the act so we, too, can enjoy a net-zero future, even from the sunny shores of Palm Springs.
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