Sunrun has been recently spending a lot of money on animated videos, brand ambassadors, and billboard ads — as they should. If you’re trying to beat the current residential solar installer leader (with the initials S.C.), you have to spend brand awareness marketing dollars, and you have to “stand out and educate,” as I always say.
As much as I love Sunrun’s big dollar commitment and their attempt to be fun and quirky, I think their current campaign is not going to spread or create the public excitement of their “Dolphin Baby” campaign from 2012. (For the record, I also thought that campaign missed the mark because it made solar people seem snobby, vain, and selfish, but hey, a couple of million of YouTube video views proved me wrong, so perhaps I’ll be off about these videos too.)
My thoughts here are meant to be a constructive critique that I hope will not only help SunRun to improve future campaigns, but also help other solar installers when they think about creating “fun” videos for the residential market.
First, let’s talk about the theme and production values and then focus on the content, where I’ll post each video.
The Theme: Solar lets everything run on the sun.
I have no problem with the theme. In all three videos, SunRun is trying to connect the electricity expense of everyday common appliances to running those appliances on solar. I agree that solar marketers need to make solar relatable to the things we use every day. So, great theme. Thumbs up.
The Production Values. Good. Two videos are retro-70’s “Adult Swim” cartoon-style animation with professional voice over actors lip-synching to the appliances mouths. The style may be trying to appeal to those solar Baby Boomers who watched Hanna-Barbera cartoons as kids, but it seems to be more like the younger, 14 to 30 Adult Swim demographic. But let’s assume they were going with Yogi Bear and Hanna-Barbera.
Animation wise, the most sophisticated of the three is the 30-second commercial “Sunrun Solar Motion,” which launches a whirlwind of happy appliances in a stop-motion animation dance that circles into a sun shape, all to the tune of “Chase the Sun” by the band Dragon. It’s fun, it’s bright, it’s happy, and I think it gets your attention, but for the reasons below, I wonder whether the ad’s message will stay with the viewer or inspire them to share the video.
The Content and Stories. Here’s where I feel the videos fall flat and lack the spark (pun intended) to be widely shared on social networks — the real gold in creating a video campaign.
In “Run Your Laundry Room on the Sun,” we have a “smart” Dryer lecturing to an unseen homeowner at a corner coffee shop via a cell phone. The Dryer’s complaint is about running the laundry room’s caring appliances on “dumb” energy. Take a look:
Overall, I feel like this was written for an “Adult Swim” audience with a demographic of teens and 20-somethings, not a more sophisticated Baby Boomer or Gen-X audience who are the main solar buyers today.
There’s a 2-D stereotype of a “smart” Dryer who has an English accent…as if all American accents are dumb? Hmm…. Mr. Dryer then goes on to banter with the other appliances about how they all need to be run on smarter solar energy.
Once again, I don’t have a problem with the theme of tying solar to laundry room energy hogs, but these commercials are telling a story about the appliances’ problems, not the homeowner’s.
When solar installers create any video, we should not only think about what’s funny or in advertising style, but also what our customers might think is funny and relatable to their homeownership concerns. Here, I feel like the cartoon style and content may relate more to a teen’s concept of solar being cool than to parents concerned with high electric bills.
I think a more relatable yet still creative way to go would have been to have people (customers!) complaining about the high electricity expenses of the appliances, and then perhaps the “smart” dryer overhearing and suddently suggesting solar. After a brief shock of a talking dryer, the homeowner would converse with the dryer and learn how solar could solve their high energy costs–and to the Dryer’s benefit, they won’t have to return him/her. Production-wise, that type of scenario could have included live Gen-Xers and Baby-boomer actors talking with a voice over of a real modern dryer.
The longer 1-minute “Run Your Kitchen on the Sun” keeps the same theme as the Laundry Room video, but once again, we have 2-D cartoon kitchen appliance characters lecturing a silent homeowner in a Porche about “needing to have a word” about making the house run “smarter” with solar.
I get suspension of disbelief, so talking cartoon appliances calling the homeowner on his cell is not the issue for me. Rather, it’s about writing for the customer’s concerns. Why should the Gen-X/Baby-Boomer/Parent solar demographic relate to appliances making puns about energy savings and smarter energy? I think solar customers care more about not wasting money so that they can go on vacation and send their kids to college, and if installing solar can help solve those concerns, bingo. That type of content is thinking about the customer.
Instead, the concern portrayed here is that the apparently single male homeowner with the Starbucks in his cup holder has “dumb energy” running his appliances and he should get “smarter” solar energy. At best, that’s an aspirational marketing storyline, but it’s neither a real solar customer “need,” nor does it solve the real money-crunch concerns of Sunrun’s true solar-buyer demographics.
As for “Sunrun Solar Motion,” the content is relying on the happy feeling of appliances running on the sun. It’s executed well, but like the other two animated videos, I think this misses the main Baby Boomer/Gen-X/Parent homeowner concerns or desires.
I hope this critique was constructive for all installers, as that was my intention. I sincerely applaud Sunrun for taking creative risks and spending the media dollars to make and distribute ads and YouTube videos. Those campaigns indirectly help the entire industry by widely putting more solar concepts and stories in front of consumers. My critique is meant to urge Sunrun — and other residential solar installers — to create videos and ads from the interests and perspectives of their customers, and then apply imagination to their future live-action videos and cartoons. In other words…UnThink Solar.
Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” is a solar marketing and communications consultant at UnThink Solar and the author of Solar Fred’s Guide to Solar Guerrilla Marketing. For more solar marketing info, sign up for the Solar Fred Marketing Newsletter or follow @SolarFred on Twitter.