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Amping Up the Electric Car Story

There was a funny article in AdAge this past week about Nissan and Renault airing essentially the same commercial for two competing electric cars. (In case you missed it, here’s the link.) Worse, it seems very likely that both spots were essentially remakes of a spec spot created for Mitsubishi by a German production company.

From my point of view, the apparent plagiarism, while amusing, is less interesting than what this episode says about how various car companies are using story as they try to define their place in the world of electric cars. The fact that the same spot can be used for all three brands suggests that no one has carved out any unique story territory yet.

It reminds me of MP3 players before the iPod. A large group of competitors were piling into the category, battling with each other over a catalogue of features that conveyed very little meaning to most consumers. By contrast, Apple entered the category with a strong story that went beyond the literal new technology. The iPod seemed like such a brilliant collision of technology and intuition that many consumers perceived it as an altogether new kind of device.

Toyota captured that kind of story energy for hybrid vehicles with the Prius. It is significant that, in both cases–iPod and Prius–the story energy was unique enough and authentic enough to reflect back on the parent brands themselves.

I don’t know that there is anything wrong with Nissan and Renault spending money to tell the category story of electric cars (questions of creative integrity aside). But it does feel like the territory is wide open for someone to stake a much more engaging and compelling claim to a unique story.

I’d love to know if you see this same dynamic playing out in any other categories.

“Character gets to the heart of what good storytelling is all about. They’ve helped Wendy’s focus on what makes us unique, different and special and that’s helped us to get people’s attention, keep their interest and keep the business growing. We compete with much larger brands, but by being overt about how we want to attack those differences, we’ve been able to have a lot of tension and conflict in the story that we are telling. That allows us to keep the story fresh and to fuel it. The more we do that the more positive attention we get as a brand and the more the brand continues to grow, which, in turn, builds our confidence in our storytelling and keeps the courage level high.”

—Kurt  Kane, President U.S. & Chief Commercial Officer, Wendy’s Corporation

“I’ve been through Character’s story framework process four times in my career, and it has always added extraordinary value. It was a central piece of Walmart’s rebranding effort in 2006, as we sought a new articulation of our brand narrative and our purpose. It’s an equally powerful tool for us now, as Walmart defines its place in a rapidly transforming retail environment. And we are currently using it to do the same for Sam’s Club.”

—Tony Rogers, Chief Marketing Officer, Walmart

“Since articulating our story framework, Gallo has had its best year. We’re up 10% and we’re outpacing the category. From a creative standpoint it’s been great because we’re all in alignment. Now that we have the articulation of our story, our social media, our partnerships, our programs, our packaging—it all makes sense.”

—Stephanie Gallo, Chief Marketing Officer, E&J Gallo Winery