How has Tesla created such a strong brand without traditional advertising?
Tesla has become disruptive for many things. But one of the biggest surprises is the company's decision to forego traditional advertising campaigns. When was the last time you saw a TV commercial, website banner ad, or billboard pointing you towards a Tesla? Never, right?
Above: Tesla owners, pre-pandemic, coming together to talk shop (Source: EVANNEX; Photo by Casey Murphy)
Tesla’s anti-advertising strategy has (ironically) made them one of the fastest growing automakers in history. And, it turns out Tesla doesn't do traditional Public Relations either. Yet, everyone (it seems) now knows Tesla. So if Tesla steers clear from traditional ads and PR, how has the company been able to embed itself so firmly into our public psyche?
Focus on the Product
The company channeled their efforts (and budgets) into simply making a better product. For all the FUD out there, in the real world, you’d have to look hard for a Tesla owner who isn’t excited about driving electric.
Tesla tends to funnel its cash back into ever-more-disruptive growth — across the board. By shunning the franchise dealership experience, delivering next-gen technology, providing non-stop software updates, and building a robust Supercharger network, Tesla has been able to create an abundance of excitement around the brand.
Emphasis on Innovation
Given the high speed at which Tesla innovates and the multi-faceted nature of their business, it would be hard for a legacy automaker to keep up in the news cycle the same way Tesla does with its new cars, new tech, and 360-degree clean energy solutions.
Just look at the number of things that Tesla is working on: Cybertruck, Roadster, Semi, ATV, FSD, software updates, construction progress at Giga Shanghai, Giga Berlin and Giga Texas (soon Giga India), solar roof, energy storage, battery developments, and a much-anticipated $25,000 compact car. That’s a plethora of future projects and I am sure I missed a few things.
Elon and Twitter
Quick, what’s the name of Mazda’s CEO? Honda’s? BMW’s? I imagine that you probably couldn’t name them. But I'm sure you know who Elon Musk is — and not simply because you're a fan of Tesla or EVs in general. In fact, according to friendorfollow, Elon Musk is the 30th most followed person on Twitter in the world with a jaw-dropping 44 million followers.
I can assure you Tesla has not delivered 44 million cars (yet). Simply put, Musk’s activity on Twitter does more than any Super Bowl ad ever could. He'll share memes. Respond to questions. Break news. And provoke conversation (and, of course, sometimes controversy).
Rather than a stiff corporate account run by some stodgy PR outfit, we get Tesla updates straight from the Iron Man himself. Elon generates plenty of excitement surrounding the company. There is simply no CEO out there who's more connected within the Twitter-sphere.
Most legacy automakers tend to reveal their new models at auto shows (with 2020 being an obvious exception to this rule). Regardless, anytime Tesla needs to unveil a new car, they hold their own event.
Typically, leading up to the event, Tesla fans will try to predict what might be revealed. Invites often go to Tesla owners and influencers, so social feeds are chock full of each attendee’s unique experience. Opening up the event to owners and influencers is definitely a credible way to build up loyalty and, in turn, those same folks tend to give some of those good vibes back to Tesla.
Word of Mouth
Tesla also appreciates word-of-mouth — the company has used a referral system to spread the good word for years. Giving prizes to owners who received referrals incentivized them to talk openly about their vehicle purchase decisions.
Above: Tesla's Elon Musk discusses the power of word-of-mouth in lieu of ad campaigns during his tenure at PayPal (YouTube: Entrepreneurship.org)
In addition, people are curious about EVs. So being an EV owner in an ICE world really doesn't make sparking up a conversation all that difficult. After all, no one really talks about how much they savor pumping their car full of gas.
For the time being, it doesn’t appear to be necessary for Tesla to carve out a budget for traditional advertising. That said, there's probably a place for some kind of non-traditional ad spend (maybe a documentary film?) aimed at educating people about electric cars. Unfortunately, disinformation campaigns against EVs are still rampant. So there's still many folks out there who are misinformed about EVs and refuse to even consider such a shift in lifestyle.
Whether Tesla takes it upon themselves to educate the masses with specific advertising efforts remains to be seen. But for now, most seem to be happy that they're reinvesting for growth — Tesla Gigafactories, Superchargers, Service Centers, and (of course) their cars.
An earlier version of this article appeared on EVBite. EVBite is an electric vehicle specific news site dedicated to keeping consumers up-to-date on any developments in the ever-expanding EV landscape. You can also listen to more of their thoughts on their DriEV Podcast.