Elio Motors is in the startup stage, gathering momentum and money in an effort to bring a hyper-efficient, super-affordable three-wheeled car to the U.S. market.
But if you click on the “government” page of the satirical website The Onion, you’ll see a 44-second Elio commercial that’s so slick, you’d swear it was made by a major car company. Only it’s funnier than anything a big-time automaker would ever approve.
It’s perfect. Every jab at the perfectly-coiffed, tucked-in Mr. Red Shirt is countered with an expert hook at the schlubby, Louis C.K. wannabe Mr. Blue Shirt. No matter your political allegiance, you’ll find something to chuckle about in this spot.
Computer-sitters everywhere flock to the website every day for its off-beat, subversive satire. The Onion’s audience—which is to say, youthful, socially-conscious media consumers—will pick up on the nuances of this ad more quickly than the statistically average TV viewer.
And the result is as quirky, ironic, and let’s face it, uninformative as the best Old Spice commercials. Elio’s striving claims—84 mpg, $7300 base price—are relegated to the top-of-screen text, never mentioned or even alluded to by the two stars. On first viewing, you might not even realize what this commercial is trying to sell you.
That’s a deft move. Elio can’t succeed by selling to engineering nerds alone. If the wannabe automaker hopes to have widespread success, it has to lure the kind of buyer who might otherwise end up puzzling over monthly payments on a Civic or Corolla. The buyer who doesn’t necessarily understand how Elio’s three-wheel layout and tandem seating cut down aerodynamic drag, but who loves the idea of a super-efficient car you can buy brand-new for less than a used hatchback.
Elio’s gotten about as much mileage as it can out of persnickety hypermilers and hybrid nonbelievers, earning more than 50,000 preorders and a $1.3 billion market valuation on the back of a wildly successful $17 million crowdfunding effort. The next step has to take the company out of the realm of esoterica and into the minds of regular car buyers.
Catering to The Onion’s audience is a brilliant way to do that, and this ad does so with the perfect tone. Now all Elio has to do is start building the cars—hopefully with fenders that don’t fall of while driving.