Last week I constructively critiqued Sunrun’s latest solar video marketing efforts. This week, I caught a new video from NRG Home, NRG’s residential solar division. Like Sunrun, NRG also animated its solar message, but there was a big bump to its production values: The voice over talent was none other than Academy Award winning actor, Matthew McConaughey. Take a look…and a listen:

Be honest. Didn’t you love that performance? It was so natural and so friendly and “down home.” There’s a reason McConaughey has won Academy Awards, and I’m sure that kind of quality celebrity talent comes with a very high price tag. The question is…is it worth it? I mean, could you create something just as effective without spending a million dollars (or more) with McConaughey’s voice?

It’s too early to tell how successful this video is, since it was recently uploaded in September 2014. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see if Tweeters, YouTubies, and Facebookers share it — or whether people will even notice that it was Matthew McConaughey’s voice.

Meanwhile, as this effort percolates into the interwebs and potentially onto television (perhaps with a shortened 30 second version), let’s deconstruct and see what we might learn from what’s there now.


The Theme: Solar makes sense now.

Although the title of the video is “Power to Be Free,” that has little to do with the actualSolar Marketing critique2 theme in the video. I think the real thematic goal here is to counteract the widely held perception in the U.S. that solar isn’t affordable today or that the technology isn’t ready as a mainstream energy source.

That’s an important solar message for the entire solar industry, especially given fossil fuel green washing commercials and misinformation throughout  conservative and traditional media outlets. So, good for NRG for choosing that theme to promote its solar services.

The Production Values. Great. If you’re going to hire an A-List star like Matthew McConaughey, you’re going to back up that million dollar voice over with a great production. While the animation is simple on the surface, it’s also dynamic and colorful. It moves and dissolves into vibrant collages that correspond to each chapter, and it’s all precisely narrated to the rhythm of McConaughey’s down-home, soothing voice.

Underneath it all is a nice, easy-going, strumming guitar that compliments McConaughey’s confident but casual voice and flows with the animation.

The Content: The script starts off with McConaughey’s voice over saying, “Lot’s of people know that solar power is a good idea, but not everyone knows that solar makes sense right now.” Here, NRG is setting up the current viewer thinking and a challenge: You think solar is cool, but you have issues that’s preventing you from going solar. Well, have a seat and listen to our view of solar.

From that opening, the script and visuals go on to show how old and unsustainable that old energy is and how solar is a solution — right now — for power plants, football stadiums, and even homes, and guess what, NRG has made all of that happen today. I also like that the script included wording that speaks to the customer concern that solar can save you money right now.

What’s absent from this video is McConaughey himself. So, keep in mind that this isn’t an endorsement video. McConaughey doesn’t say, “This is Matthew McConaughey, and I’m here to talk about solar power for your home.” If he did identify himself on camera, I’m confident the video would become even more effective…but it also would have been more expensive.

The Solar Video Marketing Lesson

I know what you’re thinking: “The lesson here is that if you have a lot of money, you can create a fantastic video with a huge star.”  That’s not true at all. Never, ever forget the viral success of “Solar Freakin’ Roadways.”

It’s too early to tell, but the real question I have is whether McConaughey’s high price tag is worth it? He’s not even identified, so there’s no brand ambassador value unless most viewers recognize his voice, and that’s not guaranteed. So, could another less expensive voice talent have given an equally effective performance with the same script for a lower price?

My guess is yes, so even if you don’t have the budget of NRG, I’m sure you could find some great voice over talent that’s relatively inexpensive.

As for the high quality and expensive animation, you can’t do that for less. Animation is an art. It’s not only creative, but time consuming and requires expensive computers and software to produce in this kind of production. Nevertheless, could NRG have kept the same theme and messaging and created a more budget-conscious live-action video that portrayed the same issues, perhaps even with stock footage?

Certainly. So once again, that means that your smaller solar company can create relatively inexpensive but professional videos with the same theme — that solar is affordable and ready now. Animation is attractive and cool, but it’s the content that ultimately makes a video successful.

Finally, the last lesson is about share-ability. Videos that get placed on YouTube are meant to inspire people to share them on social networks. Does this video do that? Hmm…For me, yes…but only because I recognized McConaughey’s voice in a solar video, not because of the content, which looks great, but it doesn’t make me spontaneously want to share this video with my friends and family — except to say, “Hey, isn’t that Matthew McConaughey’s voice?”

So, on that shareworthy level, I think this great looking, great sounding NRG solar video falls short. Essentially, it’s traditional, high priced, Madison Avenue T.V. advertising — although as posted, it’s typically too long for a 30 second spot. Of course, perhaps NRG will splurge and pay for the full minute of airtime. They might also post the ad as a commercial on Hulu and other less expensive internet sites.

The bottom line is that whatever solar video you produce, try to make it share-worthy. That is, make it fun, or make it surprising, and if possible, make it interactive.

Nevertheless, kudos to NRG for spending the money to make a quality solar video. I genuinely hope it spreads and brings more recognition for the entire solar industry. UnThink Solar.

Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” is the founder and CMO of 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.