Tesla reminds us that actions speak louder than words… or advertising

Elon Musk's recent reminder that Tesla's patents are available to anyone - including its competitors - is an example of true brand purpose, despite the business risks, writes TBWA\Melbourne's Alex Horner.

Tesla famously doesn’t advertise, yet it’s quickly built one of the most compelling brands of the past few decades. There are a multitude of reasons, of course – an outspoken CEO and market leading products chief among them – but perhaps the greatest learning for other brands is that they don’t just talk a big game when it comes to their purpose, they take big, bold actions too. Even when those actions could be at serious risk of undermining their market position.

Three years ago I wrote an article in Mumbrella about the importance of setting and relentlessly sticking to a succinct, progressive and aspirational brand purpose. Off the back of his then just-announced Model 3, Elon Musk had taken his company one big step closer to achieving its brand purpose:

“The overarching purpose of Tesla Motors is to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy.”

Late last week, Musk tweeted a reminder to the world that he’d taken the (relatively) unprecedented step of releasing Tesla’s patents for use by all, stating that ‘Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology’.

The reason for this bold decision? Because *gasp* it might enable their rivals to catch up to Tesla’s tech and help them achieve that purpose more swiftly. Better tech = more compelling electric vehicles = less reliance on hydrocarbons.

Consider how many brands have a big, bold-sounding purpose. Now consider how often that purpose is undermined by actions that are taken in order to appease shareholders, avoid risk or meet short-term targets. What help can advertising possibly provide to brands that can’t be trusted in consumers’ minds?

Tesla releasing its patents might seem like a big gamble. Was it an inspired move that further elevated the already impressive brand love it enjoyed, or was it yet another PR grab that finally gave their competitors what they needed to catch up?

Actually, it’s both – Tesla is now bigger than ever and the competition has indeed started to catch up. Ingeniously, in both instances, it’s helped accelerate Tesla towards its brand purpose.

So, here’s my challenge: take a long, hard look at your brand purpose in all its house/rainbow/bridge/concentric circles glory. Now, think about all the decisions you’ve had to make in the last few days or weeks and ask yourself – were those decisions aligned to your purpose?

Better yet, did they result in positive actions, rather than empty or broken promises? If the answer to either of these questions is no, maybe build a mini submarine instead… or smoke weed on a podcast… or, ya know, maybe don’t.

Alex Horner is a senior strategist at TBWA\Melbourne.

Note: While he’s open to offers of a freebie, Alex doesn’t own a Tesla, nor any shares in the company.


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