The persuasive power of non-traditional brand communication

The Super Bowl attracts millions of viewers and provides brands with one of the ultimate opportunities to flex their creative muscles. In this year’s exhibition of US sporting pride, Fox Sports charged USD$5.6 million for 30 seconds of ad time.

In 2018, auto brands Kia and Lexus took the chance to strut their stuff, but their efforts were shortly blown out of the water. The attention they received paled in comparison to that of Tesla, mere days later, when one of their vehicles floated through space to the cheers of a crowd, and the sound of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?”.

After the successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, its unusual payload was revealed, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster electric car. With a dummy named “Starman” positioned behind the wheel, SpaceX broadcasted live views capturing the car with the earth beside it, as it embarked on its epic journey towards the asteroid belt. Images of the car posted by Musk on Twitter and Instagram, to his ~22 million followers, would serve as a shining example of Tesla’s unconventional brand communication. As the first ever car in space, Tesla’s PR stunt quickly secured them a place in marketing history – and it was achieved (notwithstanding a substantial budget) with zero ad spend.

“When automakers buy an ad spot in the Super Bowl, they aspire to create a spectacle with a commercial. In Elon Musk’s case, he makes the spectacle his own reality”, said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis at Edmunds. “The buzz he creates with a stunt like this is far beyond what marketing dollars can buy you”.

But not everyone agrees with this sentiment. A substantial shareholder of Tesla recently voiced his dissatisfaction with the company’s resistance towards traditional advertising.

James M. Danforth, a San Diego-based holder of 850 Tesla shares, is quoted in Bloomberg saying, “Advertising can increase brand value, product awareness and interest. Tesla ads can help mitigate and dilute substantial FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) and misinformation campaigns sponsored by competitors and detractors worldwide and steer the narrative more favourably.”

Danforth is right. Advertising can achieve all of that and more. The shareholder subsequently proposed that Tesla spend at least $50 per vehicle produced to advertise its products. Tesla, however, promptly opposed the measure.

What Danforth had potentially failed to acknowledge, is the suite of non-traditional brand communication tactics that Musk and Tesla have employed. For many brands, traditional modes of advertising have given way to more creative, guerilla tactics.

Musk is a natural at bringing Tesla to our attention through bold and alternative means. Earlier this year, NASA astronauts rode in Tesla Model X crossovers on their way to the rocket built by Spacex. TV anchors and newspaper articles all over the world mentioned Elon Musk as the founder of Tesla as well as Spacex. The association meant a double awareness whammy.

So, while Bloomberg asserts that Musk has a “disdain for advertising”, it seems that he in fact has a massive appreciation for public relations, not too dissimilar to his counterpart Richard Branson. Branson is widely known for his PR stunts and attention-grabbing headlines when spruiking his own assorted business ventures. Indeed, he reportedly allots a quarter of his time to marketing activities. Most memorably, Branson drove a tank down New York’s Fifth Avenue to introduce Virgin Cola to the United States. Later, to celebrate the first Virgin America flight, Branson bungee jumped off the Palms Hotel Casino in Las Vegas.

Musk too is frequently the basis of articles in newspapers, magazines and other media. He has spoken at TED and posts prolifically to his 35+ million twitter followers, continually reminding consumers of his electric car brand.

Virgin and Tesla’s successes are testament to the fact that brands don’t need to rely on traditional advertising to be heard. Spotify proved this to be true last week, when their cleverly packaged Wrapped feature allowed fans to spread their message for them.

Streaming wars are prolific. With so little separating different platforms, gaining a competitive edge requires creativity and finesse. That’s why it’s difficult not to admire Spotify’s ingenuity in turning their yearly data reveal into a hotly anticipated, viral annual event.

Most people who have been on social media in the last week would have seen someone share their 2020 Wrapped. The sleekly packaged data visualisation and playlist offers users easily sharable content that captures their love for the platform and celebrates the sophistication of its data. Instagram and Twitter were immediately inundated, as they have been each year Spotify drop their Wrapped feature. The result is a widespread celebration of consumer trust in Spotify – trust that showcases the platform’s role as not only a music app, but a personalised, intimately curated experience.

Even those without the platform were toking the flames of virality through memes that expressed their jealousy or FOMO at being left out.

These achievements are a firm reminder to think differently about where and how you advertise. Breaking away from traditional communications and embracing novel methods can help your brand shine.

Sniffing out reindeer

Christmas is coming, and I must admit, I’m having mixed feelings about it. I’m not really fond of intruders at the best of times, so possums and pigeons are subject to a tirade of barks if they come anywhere near the premises. As such, every Christmas I wait, canines exposed, ready to bite this fabled man and his strange, flying dogs. But again, and again my plans are thwarted. Sleep always seems to take me before these mystical beasts arrive.

It’s often accepted that we fear what we don’t understand, so I did some research, paying particular attention to these flying dogs.

And as it turns out, they aren’t dogs at all! They are reindeer. Originally, there were only eight. The ninth reindeer, Rudolph, was invented in a free children’s book distributed to kids around Christmas at a mall in Chicago.

And that, as they say, is where the plot thickens. Rudolph is a boy’s name. Now, reindeer are always pictured with antlers, but my husky friends tell me that while all reindeer grow antlers in the summer, the males drop theirs at the beginning of winter. Female (pregnant) reindeer retain theirs until after spring. Of course, up at the North Pole, they’re in the thick of winter during Christmas time.

That’s right. Not only are the reindeer not male, they’re all pregnant!

This revelation has eased my protective guard dog instincts. As tough as I look, I am not merciless. So, this Christmas I will be waiting, but with my canines hidden, and my tail wagging – to greet these magnificent reindeer and thank them for their service.