Will Ford’s Electric Butterflies Fly?

Among the talking points we heard repeatedly last week at the Forward with Ford trends event where that the soon-to-be-released Ford Focus electric will get better mileage than a Chevy Volt and will charge faster than a Nissan Leaf. That’s exciting news for a brand new car we haven’t yet seen on the road. It also throws some excitement into an electric car race we could only have dreamed of 10 years ago.

We also got a glimpse of the vehicle’s excellent marketing campaign and some of its clever design features. Among the most novel – a flock of butterflies on the dashboard is used to indicate the battery charge. Lots of fluttering butterflies mean a full charge, fewer means you’re close to empty. Cute. Although my first reaction was that butterflies were a bit of a distraction, the reaction in the room was overwhelmingly positive. Perhaps Ford had hit on something – especially with drivers not instinctively prone to “geek out” on having an electric car. If cute butterflies could be a selling point for electric vehicles, then I’m all for it.

Ed Begley Jr, at Forward with Ford
Ford spokesman, and long time eco-activist/actor Ed Begley Jr joined the group to talk in impressive detail about the new Focus, as well as other Ford brands – in particular the smaller, more efficient cars Ford plans to prioritize. He also spent some time with assembled media to give easy energy saving tips and the sort of “eco-101” pep talk readers of this site are already well familiar with – but which sorely bears repeating in most circles.

And Why? According to Ford, “living green” represents one of the major trends they’re tracking today as a driving force behind consumer decision making – shaping the future of not only the company, but the economy at large. For those of us in the business, this is both obvious and a long time coming. It’s easy to dismiss as mostly talk in response to high gasoline prices.

But the reality is that the more customers opt for electric cars or smaller cars, the greater the environmental benefit. Ford naturally wants to excite their customers, not only about the environment and the consumer’s pocketbook – but they also want to appeal to the consumer’s intelligence and common sense.

Take Begley’s new advertising campaign for Ford (video below), featuring himself discussing not only the Focus but the sensibility of electric cars in general. It’s smart, and takes amusing deference to the environmentalist stereotypes of yesteryear.

I can’t speak for Nissan or Chevy, both of whom are making excellent strides in electric cars, but Ford’s marketing move to downplay the hippie and the eco and emphasize the cute, the hip, the gee-whiz & and the downright sensible feels like it’s going to resonate in new and big ways. At the end of the day, Ford is both following a trend and trying to establish themselves as a trend-setter, making sensibly ecological choices easier, more fun, and ultimately mainstream.

(full disclosure, the conference, including travel has been paid for by Ford)

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

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