Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt Target Different Drivers


3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course on a blogging series about “sustainable marketing.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By Crystal Arvigo

While both the Nissan LEAF and the Chevy Volt are leading players in the electric car arena, their marketing pitches are targeted at quite different audiences. I was curious to learn more about the cars both from a practical and functional perspective, and to get a feel for how two very different companies would go about marketing a seemingly similar product.

In reviewing the marketing collateral and ad campaigns for the LEAF and the Volt, I was immediately struck by the fact that the LEAF is clearly going after the early adopter/leading user market and plays much more strongly on potential customers’ sentiments about the environment to evoke a very strong sympathetic and emotional response.  The LEAF has some functional drawbacks as compared to the Volt, such as not having gasoline as a substitute in between charges if needed. Nissan’s messaging appears to embrace this distinction with pride by suggesting the car is on the absolute cutting edge of the new electric vehicle technology.

The Volt on the other hand, clearly plays up the idea that the Volt is just a small change for the typical American car consumer, and that it is not in fact disrupting our driving habits too greatly.  Their campaign tagline says it all: “More car than electric.” GM has clearly opted to skip the early adopters and leading users altogether and move right on to the early majority, mainstream car enthusiasts.  The Volt’s advertising is designed to evoke a feeling of slow and steady progression both in history and in technology to arrive at the Volt today.  The commercial shows quick time shots of cars over the last century or so and then moves to recent history highlighting GM’s small and fuel efficient cars, to GM’s hybrid SUV’s and finally arrives at the Volt.  Clearly, the messaging is designed to build on history and legacy to give the mainstream consumer the warm and fuzzy feeling of incremental change. The ability to use both gas and electric power consoles the mainstream user with a feeling of safety and comfort in “the way I’ve always done it.”

Interestingly, the Volt advertising uses almost no emotional piquing with regard to environmental issues, while the LEAF advertising seeks an almost visceral response from its emotional and environmentally charged ads about the polar bear and the value of ZERO emissions, pollution, and dependence of foreign oil.  The other angle highlighted in LEAF advertising is a challenge to the status quo.  This line of thinking targets the early adopter who avidly embraces change, versus the early majority who like things to stay more or less the way they are.  Nissan questions our assumptions rather brilliantly by showing all the common machines we have come to know as using electric power and asks, “what if everything ran on gas…then again, what if everything didn’t?” Nissan shouts, “This car will change your life!” and GM says, “This car won’t really change the way you live your life.”  Both messages are considered positive when delivered to the appropriate audience, but would either bore or terrify the wrong set of ears.

Which messaging appeals to you more? Do you find the advertising effective? Does the advertising change your perception of the cars?

Crystal Arvigo is a graduate student at Presidio Graduate School, a Sustainable Management MBA program based in San Francisco, CA.

image credits: Chevrolet, Nissan