Thursday, February 28, 2013

Overcoming inertia: the key to Tesla changing the world.

I had dinner with my father-in-law a couple nights ago. He’s an old-school businessman, so no surprise our conversation turned to a common theme: business today versus back in the day. Somehow that conversation veered to a grandchild who goes against the grain. I could tell my father-in-law sees the kid’s quirkiness as a flaw, but I think it’s potential for creative new ideas—which, from my perspective, makes him a perfect candidate for business.

To avoid conflict, we started talking cars. Safe territory, right? Wrong. I said I’d love to buy a Tesla. He balked at the idea of electric cars in general.  So I looped back to business, emphasizing how critical innovation is in every industry these days, and Tesla is as innovative as they come.

I told him that Elon Musk is a fascinating leader—a powerful intellect, brave to the bone, full of monumental tenacity. And with the Model S, he’s getting crazy positive reviews. Tesla has thousands of Model S pre-orders and hundreds of free supercharger stations on the way. On top of all that, the company is targeted to have great margins with American-made vehicles.

My argument had zero traction with him. He still thought EVs were idiotic and doomed to failure. I just hope the world proves him wrong.


The world establishes norms to function—cultural, legal, technological. Changing these norms can be a challenge, even when there are clear benefits to doing so. Yes, we shifted from Walkmans to iPods, but only after it became clear iTunes had the music we wanted. We had mp3 players already, but technology wasn’t enough to create a shift in norms. Great songs were. Then the change was easy: throw away the bulky old device, buy the silvery new one and download away.  In other words, and to bastardize basic physics, something had to push us to overcome inertia.

A similar shift has to happen in order for Tesla to succeed. Right now there's lots of resistance, from a clear lack of charging stations to a vague sense that all things green require sacrifice. And as Elon Musk has said, even government regulations are aligned against new thinking on a car. My father-in-law would certainly agree with Musk's frustration with rules against everything from headlight color alterations to mirror redesigns--even if he'd wonder why anyone would want to noodle with something that works just fine..

But one by one, Tesla is knocking down that resistance. Who can resist free rapid charging? Who wouldn't want  0-60 in 4.1 seconds? Who wouldn't want an American car that far exceeds the quality and innovation of any car in the world? 

Not me. I'd be happy to have a Model S in my garage.

Monday, February 4, 2013

9 & 3/4 thinking: Oreos dunking in the dark.

Like a good ad guy, I watched this year's Super Bowl. But if I'm going to remain a good ad guy, next year I'll probably be working the Super Bowl shift. The best ad at the Super Bowl wasn't on television. It was on the Oreo cookie twitter feed. It aired (so to speak) during the game--but more to the point, it was concepted, approved, and executed during it as well. 

Lights go out, tweet goes live. Bam. Retweets like crazy, trackable brand lift in minutes.

Advertising has always been about immediate gratification and cultural relevancy. And as a result, agency folks are used to facing unreasonable deadlines. There's a tired repartee that's been around forever that goes something like this:

Creative: When is this due? 
Account: I got it moved out, thank you very much. Client wanted it yesterday, but I got them to push it out to right now.

After the Oreo tweet, this will no longer be a joke. It's going to be an expectation. Not to sound like a Zen koan, but relevance is this very second. Anything older than that has already been talked about ad nauseum. 

But hey, I'm already a day late with this post, so it's dusty old news. First thing this morning, Forbes had already posted a breakdown of how the tweet was created.