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Solar City Campaign Harnesses the Infinite Power of Humor

While alternative energy sources are embraced by the mainstream in many other countries, this simply has not caught on with the vast majority of the U.S. public. So where does that leave a solar energy brand who wants to change the country? They need to try an alternate approach to their advertising and marketing. First, that brand has to create engaging advertising campaigns that will break through to the average American, rather than focusing on reaching the already “green” consumer. Second, that campaign must resonate with their target audience (i.e., everyone) via channels where “everyone” is. For solar energy brand SolarCity, their one-two marketing punch involves humor and social media.


Humor is a difficult approach to pull off in advertising and social media, but SolarCity has found just the right balance of funny and educational by bringing to life the power of the sun as a character. The brand’s Facebook videos and posts feature an actor playing the Egyptian Sun God, Ra, working and serving humanity as a way to “edutain” (educate and entertain) potential customers.


The brand is targeting Facebook users (aka, almost everyone in SolarCity’s marketing demographic) with this and other videos as a promoted ad that appears in consumers’ social media feeds. Even without the sound on, the muscle-bound bird-man in full ancient Egyptian god attire performing menial tasks looks funny enough to be worth the click. Those who do click through are treated to the full messaging: a quick bit of humor, such as Ra’s landscaping talents resulting in pyramid-shaped bushes, followed by the royal proclamation, “The infinite power of the sun to work and serve.” That’s it. The ad has 15 seconds to make an impression, and SolarCity makes those 15 seconds count. In less than the time it takes to brush one’s teeth, the message that solar power can make life better on an everyday basis is made clear.


Whether or not viewers like the video itself (which is always a risk with humor), they have been educated and can then choose from several possible paths. At worst, they will ignore the video and move on as if they’ve never seen it, resulting in the brand’s poorest investment of the minimal cost for that click. On the other end of the spectrum, some will find this offbeat advertising campaign funny enough to share on their own pages, and that is marketing gold for the brand. Why? Because it becomes a personal endorsement of sorts, served up to that user’s Facebook friends, some of whom may, indeed, be in the market for SolarCity’s products. For those who click through the the brand’s Facebook page, the edutainment continues with posts such as “Unlike Ra’s rippling torso, solar panels rarely require maintenance.”


One final word on humor-based advertising and marketing initiatives: there is always a risk of backlash. In this instance, the risk goes beyond people simply not finding the campaign funny. (After all, it is impossible to be universally funny. Sense of humor is entirely subjective.) Some may be offended by the brand’s use of a theological entity in their advertising and social media efforts, but it is a risk that SolarCity has decided to take. Given the popularity of their videos and the high engagement of their social media community, it appears they’ve made a divine choice.


Note: This post originally appeared in my Examiner.com column. Please follow me there too! (ThankS3!)


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