Volt Versus Leaf: Dueling Ads Reveal Different Marketing Approaches

One has Lance Armstrong, the other has..silence.

Following on the heels of the Tour d’France commercial for the Nissan all-electric Leaf, Chevrolet has begun running advertisements for its forthcoming range-extended electric car, called the Volt, in select markets.

The Chevy Volt ad does not actually show the car, which may be to its advantage. The Volt, which goes on sale in November, is not the sexiest model in GM’s line-up (most hybrids are pretty ugly). Instead, all one sees is the onrushing open road — the future, one might say — and what one hears is, well, not much.

And that’s the idea: there’s no noise since there is no internal combustion engine. These cars make just a whirring sound, “the sound of the status quo crumbling,” according to text that flashes on the screen. Although the Volt is technically a hybrid, because it uses both electric and gasoline fuel, an electric motor is what makes it go (and thus makes it so relatively quiet).

The Voltertisement stands in contrast to that for the Leaf, on sale in December, which, in terms of tone, could be an ad for any car. It features cute, swiftly-cut visuals of cars and their tailpipes and a celebrity endorsement from Armstrong, who announces that now there is finally a car he can ride his bike behind that doesn’t spew exhaust fumes in his face.

That Chevy chose to go epic with its Volt ad is revealing: the company is essentially proclaiming, “pay attention — this is a big deal.” And it is, especially for GM, which has a lot riding on the success of the Volt.

Nissan’s ad on the other hand treats the world’s first mass-produced all-electric car with much less suspense or drama, instead relying on a clever concept.

The two approaches really represent the split personality of the electric car market as it is now. Ultimately, EVs will have to be considered run-of-the-mill to move from the TV set to the garage en-mass. But right now they are still exotic, still perhaps worthy of a “drum-roll, please…”

So what do you think? Which approach is more successful? Nissan’s friendly, “here we are!” or Chevy’s build-the-suspense campaign?

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.