Is Tesla Finally Ready to Advertise?


As you likely know, Tesla doesn’t do traditional advertising for its vehicles. Or much in the way of social-media advertising, either. That’s because Tesla is often considered “cool” and partly because of the cult of personality cultivated by boss Elon Musk.

That might be about to change, according to one report.

According to InsideEVs, Musk said in an interview that there may be some advantages after all.

For example, he believes (incorrectly, we’ll get to that in a second) that other automakers are getting special treatment from media outlets because they buy advertising.

“There’s an argument for maybe we should advertise because the traditional media will not run negative pieces about automotive. Because automotive is like one of the biggest—if not the biggest—advertisers in their paper,” he said.

This is, for the most part, bullshit. While there are exceptions — remember the flap involving auto critic Scott Burgess and his paper, when Burgess got mad about a review of his being watered down by editors to curry favor with Chrysler? — for the most part, advertising is separate from editorial. Over the years, I’ve seen readers write to the buff books complaining about this, only to be sarcastically taken down by editors who revealed the truth that reviews aren’t swayed by ads.

Certainly, we here at TTAC aren’t swayed — and the ads that run alongside our reviews are something that no one here has control over. Most are programmatic, others were sold by our corporate masters, with no involvement from myself or anyone else on the masthead. I’ve even written op-eds that were critical of OEMs that bought ad space from our corporate parent and took some guff for it — and I’ll do it again, even if I again take flack from above.

Also, if we at TTAC became aware of an outlet compromising its ethics because of advertising and could prove it, we’d cover it.

Ahem, back to Musk.

He then goes on to say that not having a PR team also hurts Tesla.

“So Tesla is basically free game [for traditional media]. Whereas, its [sic] safe to say that if they run some negative piece about General Motors right next to a General Motors ad, a General Motors marketing executive would call them and say,’ um—why did you do that?”

Again, he has the latter part wrong — generally speaking, I’m not aware of PR or marketing types calling journalists just because a negative piece or review ran near an ad. Speaking only for myself, every time I’ve gotten a call from a PR rep angry about something I/we wrote it’s either because we screwed up a fact or because they felt we were unfair in how we approached the piece. Or because they wanted to make the case that the company is aware of a vehicle’s flaws and the next model will be better, honest.

It’s never, in my experience, been about ads, though I acknowledge the possibility that things might be different in the print magazine world — my experience is mostly in digital. But again, from what I hear, the print books generally don’t let ad placement dictate the tone of editorial copy.

Aside from that, didn’t I say that Tesla was hurting itself by not having a PR team? Yes, yes I did.

Elon Musk is starting to show me, based on his tweets and public statements, that as smart as he is, he’s woefully uninformed about certain aspects of this business, other businesses (see: Social-media moderation), and life in general.

OK, we’re skidding towards the weeds like an overconfident driver in an overpowered car on a track day, so let’s tap the binders and tighten the line. Snarky but accurate broadsides at Musk aside, it’s unusual that an automotive company would spend $0 on advertising in Q1 2021 when the auto industry dropped $12 billion on it in 2020. Then again, Tesla, a small company trying to make it as a startup and one that’s heavily focused on EV and autonomous-driving tech, spends more on research and development than other OEMs. So Tesla could argue that the money it spends on R&D is going to something even more important than advertising.

Still, it’s almost unheard of for a car company, even one as well-known as Tesla, to not market its wares.

InsideEVs further points out that EV ads from other automakers, plus automakers taking shots, however subtle, at Tesla, have helped Tesla get attention from consumers. So Tesla gets some attention via the actions of its rivals, without having to lift a finger or spend a dollar.

Tesla has been in a unique position — for a variety of reasons, including those mentioned in this article’s lede, it has never really needed to advertise. Yet advertising probably wouldn’t hurt the company, especially if Musk could address legitimate criticisms about low build quality and the misleading use of “full-self driving” to describe Tesla’s autonomous driving tech.

We’ll see if Tesla ads grace our TV screens anytime soon. Until then, it continues to be interesting to see Musk learn the lessons that long-time automotive executives learned decades ago.

[Image: Tesla]

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