Did you hear the news?
Tesla is making a pickup truck!
Of course, I doubt anyone who pays a slight bit of attention on social media missed the debut of Cybertruck. I mean, who could miss such a disaster of epic proportions, right?
At first glance, Elon Musk blew it. The truck looks absolutely hideous to your typical truck buyer, like something off a Blade Runner movie set, a future that never will be and never meant to ever reflect what consumers actually want in a vehicle.
But the reality is that Tesla just scored a huge marketing win. Those of you who hate the design, you are not in the actual target audience. A traditional truck buyer isn’t really interested in anything Tesla is offering and taking sledgehammers to windows won’t change that. However, if you have joined those talking about this awful truck then you are doing exactly what Musk’s rollout was intended to do and that is you are providing free-advertising for Tesla.
You might say, “But, wait a minute, everyone is ridiculing this design, laughing about the broken glass, how is that a good thing?”
It doesn’t make sense that what appears to be a failure is anything but a failure, right?
However, there is one thing I’ve discovered in the past few years and that is that almost all publicity is good publicity for those who know how to leverage it. From Miley Cyrus selling albums by twerking awkwardly like an ex-Mennonite ‘woke’ feminist-wannabe still angry at her parents—to Trump winning the White House by offending “libtards” (a term I’m borrowing from a smart liberal friend) with his strategically insensitive Tweets—bad press can most certainly be turned into bankable success.
Sure, you might never, in a million years, buy a Cybertruck. But, who cares? I can about guarantee some version of this truck will be hitting the road in the next few years and now everyone that could possibly want one knows about it.
Musk gets it.
Musk, love him or hate him, understands that people aren’t only buying transportation.
No, ever since Chevy coupes could be bought in more than one color (and much to the chargin’ of Henry Ford and his venerable Model T that was available in any color you want—so long as that color is black), consumers are buying an image as much as anything else. Image trumps practicality at every turn in this age of consumerism.
Musk, for his part, is in the business of creating image and, on this front, has delivered before…
Tesla Successfully Changed What it Means To Be Green
When electric vehicles were first introduced by established carmakers (or rather reintroduced after a century-long hiatus) they were always sold as being ‘green’ and a compromise. The EV1, for example, that billion dollar General Motors boondoggle, while winning a cult of leftist conspiracy theorists, failed to inspire the car buying masses.
And, sure, you can find enough virtue-signaling professor types or too practical appliance-car buyers to purchase a Toyota Prius. But, for the simple reason that it is boring as Al Gore’s personality, you’ll never convince the general public that this should be their next vehicle . Nobody wants to settle, every big-ticket item we buy is an extension of us, shows our personality, and an electric Toyota has all the excitement of a tweed sweater.
Musk changed the game. He changed the focus from economy and compromise (for sake of some hypothetical greater good abstraction) to real luxury and serious power. There was really nothing that new or innovative about his designs. In a sense, all Telsa cars (at least up until the Cybertruck) had styling cues that belonged next to a 1990s Ford Taurus or Chevy Caprice of the bubble car era. But the marketing strategy worked.
Telsa made electric cars something relevant and cool.
To the target demographic Model S and subsequent offerings have looked sleek and sophisticated. They also offer real-world performance, exclusivity, and appearances of eco-friendliness on top of that. They pretty much bested the existing offerings of BMW, Lexus, Audi and Mercedes Benz in every metric that mattered to that demographic.
So what happened???
How did we go from that to Cybertruck?!?
Why Does Anyone Buy a Pick-up Truck?
Truck buyers might claim to be practical. And that may be the case if you have an old Ford Ranger in your driveway, farm or hang drywall for a living. But most people do not need a pick-up truck any more than I need a Shelby GT-350.
With a pick-up truck you are buying an image.
Sure, pick-up trucks are often sold for their utility, for their ability to tow a trailer full of excavating equipment up a rocky cliff, and some do get used for this purpose, but let’s be real: The reality is that many of these two-ton behemoths (if not most) are used primarily as grocery getters, are not very practical for that task and that’s the point.
Come on, do you really think that guy (waking you up at an ungodly hour) put those obnoxious straight pipes on his Dodge Ram to uncork a little more power?
Is that six-foot lift kit on a late-model Duramax really about ground clearance and rock-climbing ability?
Don’t kid yourself, the jacked-up smoke-spewing monstrosity is all about trying to get you to notice and that goon behind the wheel will enjoy your disgust as much as your approval.
What we purchase is never only about the real-world utility of the thing. It is also to make a statement of some kind and trucks to make a statement. Owning a truck is often about getting noticed, it is a status symbol, it is a projection of strength, security and good ol’ American independence.
It is about possessing capabilities (real or imagined) that others do not have with their wimpy cars. And that’s generally why people prefer trucks over the alternatives.
Tesla’s Cybertruck Is Already A Huge Success
Believe it or not, Musk’s marketing plan was executed perfectly broken glass and all.
How do I know this to be the case?
Well, everyone is talking about it, even people who aren’t normally truck buyers or very interested in automotive news period are talking about Tesla’s hideous new Cybertruck creation, laughing about the busted window, making videos about the tug-of-war, etc.
Meanwhile, amid this free publicity is a subliminal message: If you want to be truly different, if you want to really stick it to the status quo, then buying the most loathed vehicle on the planet will give you that notoriety and the attention you want.
Call the Cybertruck ugly, but since when is a pick-up truck supposed to be pretty, dainty and delicate?
Laugh about a broken window, but since when have you seen someone dare to throw a steel ball at their shiny new F-150 or Silverado?
Say that the tug-of-war test is meaningless (and it is as far as something of practical value) and yet who hasn’t seen the videos online of similar contests between trucks?
Musk understands the average truck buyer better than they understand themselves. He also already knows that he’s not going to attract the traditional truck buyer.
Bubba ain’t giving up his “square body” Chevy even if you gave him ten Teslas and Billy Bob will be tweaking his “first-gen” Cummins until the thing dissolves entirely into a heap of rust and accumulated soot.
Likewise, pappy will continue to buy his overpriced four-wheel drive luxury barge, from a traditional brand, because new cars aren’t ‘safe’ like his 1960’s Oldsmobile.
The traditional truck buyer is not the target audience of Telsa’s campaign.
No, Tesla has, in effect, created the parody of a pick-up truck, the one that takes the increasingly squared shoulder look of pick-up trucks and goes straight-up box on wheels.
Cybertruck is extreme, it defies convention, which has been what the “big three” (if you can still call them that) have been doing for years. I mean, have you seen the new Silverados? The things are extremely exaggerated compared to the designs they replaced, almost cartoonish, and that has been the design direction for all full-size trucks, bigger, more aggressive, etc.
In reality, the Cybertruck is brilliant because it is the only way you can go to be more rugged, more independent and different.
It is a design that says, “I don’t care about you being offended.”
The only thing different is that the target demographic is not some redneck “rolling coal” in Arkansas who doesn’t want an electric truck, period, and never will.
Rather Musk’s target is someone like Arnold Swartzeneggar in Hollywood who in times past would’ve bought a Hummer to make a display of his unbridled masculinity, is desperate to be unique and yet now, to win female attention in his social strata, has to also signal his eco-consciousness.
There will be many out there who will emulate the boldness of their celebrity idols. Many who would enjoy irritating everyone else on the road with their annoying tastes and will especially enjoy the ire of the traditional truck buyers.
A successful product doesn’t need to be liked by everyone. In fact, when it comes to vehicles, it is better to have a specific group in mind and not to worry about what those outside that particular target group think.
Bad publicity isn’t bad if it gets your message to those who would potentially buy your product. The negative buzz can turn into a positive.
But will it work?
The Problem with Shock and Awe
Trump might win by a wider margin in 2020.
Tesla may have as much success with the Cybertruck as they have with their other vehicles.
However, people are fickle and the fresh direction that worked before might become old news and the next Edsel on the second go around.
Tesla (unlike Trump) also has some serious competition. Not only is Ford translating their proven F-150 platform into electric, but there is also the up and coming Rivian R1T that looks a little more thought out and has some traditional cues despite being differentiated.
It could be that most of Tesla’s target demographic consumers would settle for something a bit less radical and a bit more refined in appearance. The Cybertruck may simply be too silly to be taken seriously in the very competitive truck market—it may need to be tweaked towards a more traditional design.
There is a point when being controversial ceases to be appealing to anyone, goes full-on Aztec, and alienates everyone. (It didn’t work for Trump’s opponents who tried to adopt his brash style either, it completely backfired, it made them look even more lacking in authenticity than they did before.) And time will tell if Musk’s successful marketing of Cybertruck will turn into an actual sales success. But he did get our attention, that’s for sure, and that is half the game!
Musk, like Trump, has mobilized his haters and used them as a hugely successful marketing campaign.