Rapid content response: can you do it?

Communications organizations need to act fast these days – like the bicycle maker that recently pounced on a green gaffe by General Motors.

Here’s how it went down.

GM put out this ad, targeted at college kids…

GM 'stop pedaling' ad

…showing a poor sap on a bike in front of a cute co-ed who was riding in a … wow, car!


…and then there was this part:

bad part

“Yep. Shameless,” wrote BikePortland.org publisher/editor Jonathan Maus. “But just more of the same from the auto industry.”

Cyclists went ballistic. The auto company – a recent beneficiary of American tax dollars, contributor to our national debt, and the front end of a pretty big greenhouse gas supply chain – actually had the gall to promote its cars as, well, an alternative mode of transportation.

Why pedal, indeed? Why drink tap water when you can get a plastic bottle from Fiji? Why compost your leaves when you can let the garbage man take them to the landfill? Heck, why regulate carbon emissions when it’s easier just to spew?

Cyclists occupied Twitter with complaints about GM. The company quickly apologized (smart) via Twitter, shifting the blame onto college kids (dumb, but no one called them on it):

We're listening

One company in the bicycle industry, Giant Bicycles, actually made some hay with the story. The bike manufacturer came up with this take-off on GM’s ad and, within about 24 hours of the twitstorm’s beginning, posted it on Facebook.

Giant Bicycles reply parody ad

That’s quick.

The Giant post gained more than 1,000 likes and 386 shares (a pretty big share ratio). That’s solid engagement and a boost for the brand. Although Giant is admired for Toyota-like value, it doesn’t have the cachet of the Pinarello, Orbea or maybe even Trek brand. So leading the charge against GM’s foul, if only for a minute, adds an emotional dimension to Giant.

Either way, Giant’s rapid content generation feat is rare. Sure, savvy communications organizations know how to join a Twitter conversation, but quickly developing solid content like the parody ad almost never happens. Many companies and agencies still use byzantine “public relations 1.0” workflows for social content creation, review and approval – assuming they can conceive of a clever response in the first place.

Too often, it still takes a month to put out a press release. Even if social content takes half the time, this pace simply won’t work. In the age of Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, an opportunity goes cold long before you’ve had a chance to run your proposed creative response up and down the chain of command, collecting edits, suggestions and feedback at every turn. By the time the content is blessed, if it ever is, it’s worthless.

To get results in 2011, be ready to act. Faster than you ever have. Like Giant, which is said to be the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer.

So … how does a giant company like Giant get so fast on its feet?

Well, we asked them*.

CleanSpeak: First, how did you come up with the idea for your parody ad?

An Le, Giant Global Marketing Director: GM’s ad was so off the mark that it made our idea quite easy. We simply illustrated the real “reality” of what college students (and many of us) are facing these days – rising cost of fuel, congestion, and an ever-expanding waistline.

CleanSpeak: How did you get the ad done so fast?

Giant: Instead of going through our agency or design house, we did this piece in-house. It took us about two hours from conception to going live on Facebook. With Facebook, we have a quick and casual way to get a message out to our core audience, and we would not have produced this parody ad if Facebook did not exist.

CleanSpeak: Do you pull off these quick content creation feats very often?

An Le on a charity ride. Photo by Jake Orness.Giant’s An Le in a charity ride. Photo by Jake Orness.

Giant: We create content daily – be it news, videos, photos, etc. – but this is our first parody ad.

CleanSpeak: What’s your process for approving the concept and, later, the final? How many approvals?

Giant: We don’t have too many layers of management at Giant. I have final say in creative, and in creating this particular ad, our in-house designer (Nate Riffle, who sits next to me) and I bounced ideas back and forth and had it done in a couple of hours. If we work with a design agency, the process is similar but does take a bit more back and forth.

CleanSpeak: What is your secret for fast content creation?

Giant: Be quick. Avoid committee approval. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Have some guts to take chances once in a while. And don’t be malicious – do it in a spirit of fun.


* via email. They provided answers from their global marketing director in one hour and five minutes. Do your spokespeople move that fast? We got the right email address by pinging Giant’s Twitter address. That yielded another quick reply. Who’s monitoring your Twitter feed for media/blogger inquiries?

Blame it on Hollywood?

“So the world ends Wednesday?”

That was a colleague’s snarky rejoinder to my explanation of the oil export crisis and the implications for our energy future. Perhaps my explanation was off. Or perhaps we’re all suffering from a Hollywood-induced relevance deficit. Human response systems are really good at spotting and dealing with near-term problems. If it’s not a clear and present danger, it’s not relevant and therefore not motivating. Hollywood understands this and formulates its films to capitalize on it – particularly the action and disaster ones.

In a typical Hollywood disaster flick, the world crisis is glaringly apparent – and personally relevant – to viewers within the first 10-15 minutes of the opening credits and will be resolved within about 120 minutes. The real world doesn’t work that way, of course. However, our media-mediated lives often create a bleed-over of Hollywood-style expectations. No category five hurricanes raking the East Coast flat on a weekly basis? Well then, no climate change, obviously. Plants and animals shifting their ranges in response to climate changes is a subtle thing, ill-suited for hardy action heroes like Bruce Willis and Vin Diesel.

This lack of near-term urgency makes it tough to change behavior on important issues like climate change and carbon-intensive lifestyles. People tune out long-term problems. Clearly your warning to them has no relevance to their particular life.

That is the challenge for those in green tech seeking to motivate people. Rather than reflexively grabbing for a “Save the Planet” positioning, stop and look closer for angles that make what you’re offering relevant to issues your target audience is grappling with.

Have an all electric car that makes polar bears want to hug people who own one? Great, but I’m pretty sure that’s not relevant to anyone concerned about rising gas prices and the fact that increasingly complex internal combustion engines and their drive trains are making regular maintenance an expensive proposition. Electric cars are also kinda cool and hip. People like to be cool and hip, even if it costs more. Just ask Steve Jobs.

Find what’s relevant, match it with what you have on tap and then sell. Maybe even get Vin Diesel to star in the commercial.

Admit flaws to achieve perfect tone

Rhetoricians call it “arguing against interest.” In simple terms, it’s a good way to build credibility fast. You readily admit a weakness in yourself or your argument to actually advance your larger case. I swear to you, your honor, I had no role in the killing of which I’m accused. I was out of state, uh, delivering a shipment of drugs. This mechanism causes the audience to wonder, who but an honest-to-God truth teller would disclose something so damning?

Arguing against interest can be a powerful tool for building brand credibility. Look at Domino’s Pizza, now publicly admitting their old pizza was terrible. Or Dos Equis: What, the Most Interesting Man in the World doesn’t always drink beer? This is a beer commercial!

What makes arguing against interest so powerful is its stark contrast against the vast majority of communication that argues, often lamely, in its own interest. Ads, websites, press releases and corporate blogs dump buckets of overstated goodness on a cringing consumer. You know, if you buy the right camera, you’ll shoot National Geographic quality images. With the right diamond necklace, you’ll be back on your honeymoon, and with a fabulous spouse.

Not saying such images aren’t seductive, but overstatement is the Achilles heel of marketers who are mired in old-school corporate communications. While gilding the lily has never been a great persuasion technique, today’s audiences despise it. They are sophisticated, discriminating and skeptical, if not cynical, driven largely by social media.

Case in point
A wonderful example of a brand arguing against interest to deepen credibility is Patagonia, the maker of outdoor apparel for skiers, rock climbers and campers (it’s like a crunchy Timberland). They’re not just sprinkling their content with a few aw shucks asides, they’re actually building their brand around a concept that, at first glance, is directly opposed to their own goal of making money.

The company’s Common Threads Initiative is urging customers to buy less clothing, wear it longer, repair it instead of throwing it away, and when it’s worn out, hand it back to Patagonia for reuse or recycling.

… to wrest the full life out of every piece of our clothing, the first three of the famous four R’s are equally important – to reduce, repair and reuse as well as recycle.

Under reduce, the company is calling on consumers to “buy what you’ll wear, and want to keep long enough to wear out” in order to “get by with fewer clothes.”

Under repair, it’s offering to fix zippers for free if the garment has enough life left in it.

(The company already has a recycling program that’s collected 39 tons of used clothes.)

This initiative is like General Motors telling you to drive your clunker into the ground because it’s the right thing to do. Of course, Patagonia is a for-profit business and commercial brand. So their larger goal with the Common Threads Initiative, one assumes, is to deepen customer loyalty, reduce raw material costs, and put a noble face on plain ol’ customer service (I mean, they’re probably going to fix zippers anyway).

Deep in the content
All this is clearly a flavor of cause branding, but Patagonia is taking it to the next level with a generous dose of argument against interest throughout its public content. For example, Patagonia recently underwent a corporate social responsibility (CSR) audit. A nonprofit watchdog organization took a hard look at their operations. Patagonia blogged about the audit in great detail. The post mentions a couple of instances of where the company fell short in the review (arguing against interest). They even admit they’re a founder of the group that was auditing them. Who even blogs about audits, much less the negative findings and conflicts of interest? Now you might be asking, where’s the marketing value in this? What comes through is not Patagonia’s warts, but its seriousness about being green and transparent. It’s as authentic as you can ever expect communications to get. And utterly believable.

Another example: In writing about the new Common Threads Initiative, Patagonia talks about its five-year-old recycling program, whose goal was to make all Patagonia clothes recyclable within five years. “This we will achieve in fall 2011,” Patagonia writes, “a year behind schedule.” Another argument against interest. This line is just sitting there in the copy, no excuses, no tortured transitions, just a fact. You make the call. This kind of statement is convincing.

Patagonia has a minisite, The Footprint Chronicles, that drills into the origin of Patagonia garments. Click on the Merino 2 Crew sweater and learn that the wool is sustainably ranched, the dye is okay, and the factory is okay,  but the wool travels 16,280 miles from sheep to store. “This is not sustainable,” the Patagonia website tells us. Who says this about their own supply chain? Nobody. In how many instances is it true? All the time, presumably. Patagonia cares so much about getting it right they readily admit what they’re still getting wrong.

In another Patagonia post, a blogger admits his orthopedic problems ruined his climbing adventure. One would expect tales of glory. But while Nike has LeBron and UGG Under Armour has Tom Brady, here’s Patagonia speaking through a guy whose arm keeps dropping out of his shoulder socket.

If all this arguing against interest sounds like overkill, it’s only because we’re calling out the exceptions to the rest of the Patagonia content, which as you would expect is generally favorable to the company. But this positive content is all the more believable next to a few well-conceived arguments against interest.

By acknowledging that’s nobody’s perfect, starting with yourself, you can strike the perfect note.

Fragrance fouls provoke protests

Successful marketing draws attention to itself, sometimes drawing a bull’s eye on its own back.

Case in point is Abercrombie & Fitch, which critics claim has been dousing its products, employees and storefronts with a signature cologne that, it turns out, includes a potentially dangerous chemical. Diethyl phthalate has been linked to sperm damage in adult men and abnormal development of reproductive organs in baby boys.

Teens Turning Green marched on Abercrombie’s San Francisco store yesterday, calling the store’s perfume-igation “toxic trespassing.”

“Why,” says TTG’s overly hip video letter to the Abercrombie CEO, “are we overwhelmed by an unwanted and unasked for odor inside and outside your stores, [one] that permeates our clothing, penetrates our lungs, invades our personal space and occupies our personal consciousness. This is unacceptable.”

So, how bad is Abercrombie’s “Fierce” for men? It’s well below the median in a list of popular fragrances containing secret chemicals (not listed on product labels), according to a report by the Environmental Working Group in May. And the chemical in question is already present in 97 percent of Americans.

That tells us the critical factor in making Abercrombie a big, juicy target is apparently the carpet-bomb scent campaign. Allergy sufferers and chemical-sensitive individuals are built-in sympathizers, as well as parents concerned about Abercrombie’s sexualized advertising. Abercrombie is clearly the perfect foil for the Teens, a media-savvy organization with an enviable list of sponsors spreading its outrage Facebook, flickr, YouTube, posters, petitions and more.

They’ve got everything but their own fragrance.


Our planet’s situation: ‘crisis’ or ‘quest’?

How we brand environmental challenges may have a big impact on our planet’s fate.

So suggests New York Times “Dot Earth” blogger Andrew C. Revkin. “If I had to choose one of two bumper stickers for our car — CLIMATE CRISIS or ENERGY QUEST — I’d choose the latter,” he says. “This doesn’t mean I reject the idea that we face a climate crisis. I just don’t think that phrase is a productive way to frame this challenge, particularly as defined over the last few years in the heated policy debate.”

If we must consider ourselves in crisis, he says, let’s define it right. Citing a colleague’s argument, Revkin views crisis less as catastrophe or cause for alarmism than a crucial or decisive moment, a turning point. This approach seems to cool passion without sacrificing urgency. And though Revkin sees a need to act immediately, he wants to focus on the positive.

I’m talking about a sustained quest, from the household light socket to the boardroom, the laboratory to the classroom, the smart post-industrial American city to the struggling, (literally) powerless sub-Saharan village. This is not some onerous task, but an active, positive assertion that the ways we harvest and use energy — an asset long taken for granted and priced in ways that mask its broader costs — really do matter. Dry places do this with water all the time. In Israel, there is no toilet without two flush options. It’s not some goofball green concept; it’s just the way things are done.

The TriplePundit blog’s Deborah Fleischer has some complementary ideas for effective sustainability communications. Although the post has corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports in mind, the principles can apply to any communication.

Tell positive stories about specific challenges and successes.

Make a specific request. Instead of calling for a new green mindset, for example, suggest specific actions like printing on double sides or reusing water bottles.

Engage people’s emotions. Data and logic are great, now bring it home. How many trees does that equal? Present a photo of a forest as big as the thing you’re talking about, or work in three dimensions by, say, creating a sculpture from all the plastic water bottles you’ve collected in your office. For mind-blowing, emotion-charged examples of consumption run amok, see artist Chris Jordan’s portraits of mass consumption.

Finally, use non-controlling language. Try please think about and please consider instead of you should.

Whether your planet or your business is at stake (somehow I believe they’re interconnected), how you say it is important.

A green consumer reaches the Hotpoint of no return

Kermit the Frog was right when he said it’s not easy being green. But he didn’t warn us how freakin’ expensive it can be, too. I learned for myself recently, when I got a personal lesson in environmental math and the correlation between corporate brands and environmental responsibility. It all came courtesy of an electric range.

My 30-year-old Hotpoint stove has been decaying steadily since I bought my house 10 years ago, and when one of the burners fell apart it was time to start socking away money for a new one. I had resisted replacing the stove for years, even though the burners were too small, the oven looked like the gateway to the third ring of hell, and it was the color of an under ripe avocado. Why? Because it worked. And, God help me there must be a penurious Yankee hidden on my family tree someplace, I couldn’t bear to get rid of something that worked. Not just for the money, though that had something to do with it, but because of the environmental impact of throwing out a major appliance. There is close to 200 pounds of steel, copper, plastic and assorted insulating materials in an electric stove. There was no way I could re-use the stove by selling it on Craig’s List or donating it to a charity – it was too old and decrepit. The Hotpoint was landfill fodder, and though my town has an excellent recycling program, the energy and new raw materials consumed by disposing of my old stove and replacing it with a new one weren’t worth it to me.

Then the front left burner crumbled like a Bermie Madoff hedge fund, and it was off to Consumer Reports to find a good quality replacement. I trust Consumer Reports the way I used to trust Larry Bird to hit the game-winning three-pointer with no time left on the clock. I don’t buy a roll of Life Savers unless CR says it’s okay. I’ll pay extra to buy something that CR recommends as a quality product with a long life span and low maintenance costs. So when all signs pointed to yet another Hotpoint in my price range, all that remained was to accumulate the last few bucks of the purchase price and head off to the appliance store.

Then my church had a “sustainable gift fair” for the holiday season, I bought a little book called “The Better World Shopping Guide,” and green reality clubbed me behind the ear.

The Guide rates companies according to a social responsibility formula that includes social justice, animal protection, human rights, community involvement, environmental record. I looked up appliances, found Hotpoint, and almost choked. It wasn’t just rated low, it was rated the lowest – a big fat “F,” alongside General Electric. The Guide counsels against doing business with any company graded “F.” And it doesn’t mince any words. “This category is reserved for companies that are actively participating in the rapid destruction of the planet and the exploitation of human beings. Avoid these products at all costs.” The companies that rated high on the list were the BMWs and Acuras of the world. They were expensive but, according to Consumer Reports, often weren’t a good value and didn’t last as long as the less expensive Hotpoints and GEs.

So there was the choice: a high-quality product with a long life from a company with a crummy environmental rating or a mediocre product from a company with a high environmental rating. A high-quality product from a highly rated company wasn’t an option because by the time I saved enough to buy one the old Hotpoint would have either crumbled or burst into flames.

Ellis Jones, author of “The Better World Shopping Guide” and a professor at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., said my dilemma is pretty common among socially conscious consumers, and that there are no fix-all answers.

“Unfortunately, in a market economy it’s often more expensive to be a responsible corporation, and that cost is passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices,” Jones said. “What I tell consumers is that it’s important to understand the limits of choice and still stick by one’s guns as much as they can in any given situation. Everyone comes to the table with different resources, or they live in an area where they have limited choices of products and companies to buy them from. You can only do the best you can with what you have.”

If we want to make a difference socially and environmentally, Jones said, we have to increase the quality of our purchases, buy from higher rated companies, and decrease the quantity of our purchases. He predicts that it will get easier to buy conscientiously over the coming years because companies realize how social responsibility resonates with their consumers, and they want their brands to represent progressive ideals. In the meantime, he says, we will have to compromise on one front or another when voting with our disposable incomes.

So I compromised. Sort of. I didn’t buy a new stove. Actually, I couldn’t. I had to use the money I saved for a stove to replace the front left fender on my Honda Accord after a hit-and-run driver punched a hole in it. The Honda, with 165,264 miles on it, is a much bigger environmental issue than the stove. And what the hell, I still have three burners left on the stove. Maybe in 2011 …

Seven social media lessons from Nestle’s environmental reputation crisis

If a company still doesn’t “get” how social media has changed the rules of branding by empowering consumers, look no further than the ongoing Nestle firestorm.

Nestle has been in trouble for awhile, mostly related to its continuing use of palm oil in its products. Palm oil is linked to environmental nastiness, including deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and endangered species loss.

Caroline McCarthy of CNET News shared a balanced post about the Nestle brand crisis, triggered by ticked off consumers on Facebook. Nestle was clueless about the power shift enabled by social media and acted in an old-school authoritarian “we own the brand” way. It not only didn’t work, it backfired.

There are vital lessons from the Nestle debacle for professional communicators advising their execs or clients:

  1. Before diving into social media, make sure key decision makers who think they want to go social media truly “get” how the game is played. It’s not a press release.
  2. Make sure they understand how Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. aren’t one way vehicles (where the brand dominates the message), but an invitation to a never ending dance with constantly changing partners, some of whom are never your friend and may only want to dance if they can slap your ego and try to make you a better dancer.
  3. Don’t go social media unless the brand is willing to take the risk of jumping off the cliff, giving up control to customers and consumers who will express their viewpoints, both positive and negative.
  4. If your company or client wants to control the message, then social media isn’t for them. Look at how Nestle tried to tell people not to post their logos. It will incur a wrath not unlike “It’s not OK for people to use altered versions of your logos but it’s OK for you to alter the face of Indonesian rainforests? Wow!”
  5. Creating LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts is just the first step. The goal isn’t to tweet or post, it’s to build an active community and an authentic two-way relationship based on trust. It’s easy to get started in social media, but time-consuming and challenging to remain engaged and build a following.
  6. Remember that even if your company or client decides not to engage in social media, this won’t stop rants, rebellion and revolution. People will find a way to express themselves and let it be known they’re disturbed, upset, confused, disappointed or whatever the view. The train has left the station, so be prepared.
  7. As we’ve learned from Nestle (and so many others), people don’t want to be scammed, ignored or mistreated. It will come back to bite you. So if your exec or client wants social media to become a positive tool, the brand must be a concerned good listener prepared to take action to correct situations that aren’t right.

A rosy idea for clean energy measurement

In a recent news release for a cleantech client I struggled to quantify the energy savings and environmental impact that the technology delivered in a meaningful way. Communicating clean energy benefits can often trigger a mish-mash of metrics, like energy units (e.g. kilowatts/hour) made, dollars saved or potential pollutants scrubbed from the atmosphere.

To that end, Scientific American introduces us to a new scientific measurement for energy savings called the “Rosenfeld” named after the so-called “godfather of energy efficiency,” Scientist Arthur Rosenfeld.

One Rosenfeld equals an energy savings of 3 billion kilowatt-hours per year — the same amount generated by a 500-megawatt coal-run power plant. As Scientific American describes it, the Rosenfeld metric provides a much needed:

“… measurement that would help regular people visualize efficiency’s massive potential, but also be as accurate as possible.”

Weight Watchers have calories, cars have MPG and my woodstove boasts in BTUs. It’s not a bad idea that communications pros in clean tech industries coalesce around a standard, meaningful unit of energy savings measurement. And while we’re at, let’s nickname it the Rosy for simplicity’s sake.

A new generation of products wraps stodgy concept of conservation in sexy new clothes

Not too long ago I described conservation and efficiency as the homely sisters in the sustainable energy world because there were no iconic products that symbolize efficiency the way wind farms and solar panels symbolize their respective industries. I was wrong. Epically wrong.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently published a list of companies that received grants to develop energy efficiency technologies. Many of these products are relatively boring, designed to toil away deep in the bowels of a power generation system, squeezing out delivering a few more watts here and a few more degrees there. Others, though, really capture the imagination. They show that energy efficiency doesn’t have to be a dud in the public eye. It can excite the popular imagination and communicate the message that using less energy is the single nicest thing you can do for the Earth until renewable energy usurps fossil fuels. And some of these efficiency products are, if you’ll grant some latitude on the use of the word, sexy.

Take Nanotrons, a division of Agiltron. Nanotron is working on a long-lasting reflective coating to improve on today’s short-lived coatings. Paint Nanotron’s coating on your building’s roof, then watch your cooling costs drop. Kazak Composites is developing building panels that retain heat and coolness, and “know” when to release them to keep room temperatures even. Lower air conditioning bills in a can? Smart sheetrock? Not bad.

Even the stuff that will work under the covers has a good cool quotient. Machflow Energy, for example, is using exotic gases like krypton and xenon in a heat pump that makes refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners run on less electricity and with no environmental damage. Considering that heating and cooling systems emit over a half billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, according to the DOE, efficiency improvements make a huge difference to the environment. And you thought krypton was Superman’s home planet and xenon was the warrior princess’ brother.

Some products combine efficiency with one of the other marquee sustainable energy sources. Covalent Solar is developing coated glass that improves solar voltaic efficiency by concentrating solar energy on dense arrays of solar cells at the edges of the glass, reducing the overall number of cells needed to produce the same amount of power as a larger solar array. Giner Electrochemical Systems, LLC., is working on a new way to produce hydrogen (fuel cells, anyone?) with less electricity than current production methods.

So back to the use of “sexy.” Maybe “interesting” or “fascinating” would have been more appropriate words to describe these up-and-coming efficiency technologies, but they lack the necessary sizzle. Energy efficiency needs to be in the public’s face – and not just the “earth first” set. They’re already invested. I’m talking rank-and-file consumers. The U.S. consumer market consists of more than 100 million households and generates about 17 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to EnergyStar.gov. As much as 30 percent of the energy used to power household heating, cooling and appliances is wasted. The European Union is ahead of the U.S. on the efficiency front. It has already set a goal of cutting its energy consumption 20 percent by 2020, and it knows it needs the mass audience’s buy-in to reach that goal. “To achieve this goal, it is working to mobilize public opinion, decision-makers and market operators and to set minimum energy efficiency standards and rules on labeling for products, services and infrastructure,” the European Energy Agency writes on its Web site. We’re not going to make worldwide societal changes that reduce energy consumption by talking like Mr. Spock. Efficiency needs an iconic product that combines a little Angelina Jolie sex appeal with some Steve Jobs salesmanship thrown in for good measure.

Toyota’s new 3rd gen Prius ads are mesmerizing

I’m blown away by the new Prius ads.

David Kiley said this ad from Toyota may have been inspired by Honda’s earlier diesel engine “Hate Something” spot (compare the two yourself), but from my eyes, it’s the freshest creative in a decade.


But it’s not just creative for creative’s sake. Lots of agencies are living the creed “make it entertaining, engaging and disruptive” so consumers take notice and buy.

The new Prius spot is much more.

They’ve taken a car that was already the # 1 best selling hybrid in the world – the undisputed mainstream brand – and made it a vehicle of the people, for the people, by the people. Literally.

Using 200 extras, they created a layered – but somehow unified – sea of 1 million people parts. Everything (except the Prius, road and sky) was constructed from human beings who become “landscape texture.”  Grass. Water. Trees. Clouds. Stones. Leaves. Sun. Flowers. Butterflies. The Bellamy Brothers’ # 1 hit from 1976 – “Let Your Love Flow” – is the audio glue.

The piece de resistance (besides the people, colors and music) is the movement. As the Prius drives by, clouds shift, grass sways, butterflies fly, flowers open, water flows, the sun glows.

It’s a visual trip, blending nature, technology and the human race.

They’ve raised the branding bar yet again with the newest Prius ad, spotlighting solar.

Hopefully for Toyota, the new campaign will move more than grass. The Prius has been struggling in the U.S. of late (mirroring the rest of the auto industry). U.S. sales of the Prius were down from 15,011 in May 2008 to 10,091 for the same month this year. Year to date, U.S. Prius sales are 42,753 compared to 79,675 in 2008 – 45 per cent less than last year.

I feel better every time I see these ads. I actually want to see them.

I can’t remember the last time this happened.