Tesla, famously or infamously, doesn’t really spend an money on advertising. Contrast that with the traditional auto industry, which, for decades, has been among the biggest and most reliable ad spenders on the planet. In the “Mad Men” era, it was possible to devote an entire career to the Buick account and retire happily.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk isn’t exactly anti-advertising; several years ago, on a quarterly earnings conference call, he even speculated that Tesla would eventually develop an ad budget, because that would support the media and media — journalism — needs support.
I’m not sure if he feels the same way these days, but he has certainly discovered the value of so-called “earned” media: that’s the positive messaging around your products or services that satisfied customers offer on their own, without any prompting. Think of people posting Instagram photos of their Teslas, accompanied by rave reviews.
Other categories are “paid” and “owned.” Paid is the old-school stuff: TV, print, radio, billboards, and now digital and social. It is what it sounds like; a company buys it, and these days that often means giving money to Facebook or Google.
Owned is advertising that belongs to the advertiser and that they control. Tesla has sort of engaged in this practice. Think of the red Tesla Roadster that Musk’s other company, SpaceX, put into orbit in 2018. Or, more recently, of astronauts headed for the International Space Station in a SpaceX capsule getting a ride to their rocket in a Tesla Model X.
A Tesla shareholder intends to agitate at the company’s annual meeting next month for more old-school advertising, perhaps to spur demand during the coronavirus pandemic recovery. Musk isn’t likely to be interested in entertaining the idea.
In the meantime, here are 10 times when Musk proved that ads are pointless