Clean Energy Insights

Electric vehicles’ big Super Bowl win

6 minute read

As featured in the Hill

Once a year, Americans gather around their television sets for the unofficial American holiday — the Super Bowl. Some viewers tune in for the game, some for the half-time show, many for the ads. 

Super Bowl ads, with multiple spots running for $7 million a piece, give us a glimpse into the American psyche — or at least a glimpse into what marketers think about the American psyche. For $7 million an ad, you can bet they’ve thought very carefully about what messages the American public is ready for, the image their company is trying to project, and most importantly, what will get people to talk about their ads Monday morning.

Thankfully, for the sake of the climate, there will likely be a lot of people talking about electric vehicles and climate change on Monday.

And that’s significant. Leading climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe often reminds us the most important thing we can do to fight climate change is talk about it more. 

Former Pennsylvania public utility commissioner John Raymond Hanger tweeted, “EVs won Super Bowl LVI” and he’s totally right.

That’s because during the game, we saw at least nine ads talking about electric vehicles (EVs), EV chargers, climate change and taking care of the earth. Based on the reported price tag per ad, top brands like GM, Chevy, BMW, Nissan and Salesforce likely spent more than $60 million to get the American public on board with switching to electric vehicles and protecting the planet. 

Ads that will get us talking about EVs

As to be expected, the ads featured familiar faces and clever hooks. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Salma Hayek played Zeus and Hera in an ad for BMW’s all-electric iX. Cast members from “The Sopranos” shared a touching moment in an ad that mirrored the show’s opening sequence, ending with plugging a charger into an electric Chevrolet Silverado. And the cast of “Austin Powers” returned with their familiar funny banter to convince Dr. Evil to save the world from climate change by taking over GM and making electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions.

Yes, the ads are as awesome as they sound. Sure, EV’s are not a silver bullet to addressing climate change. But this will get people talking about climate change, talking about solutions and talking about what the future of transportation and energy look like. That is progress, serious progress.

Actor Matthew McConaughey told us “it’s not time to escape, it’s time to engage,” in the #TeamEarth ad from Salesforce. “So, while others look to the metaverse and Mars, let’s stay here and restore ours,” he quips. I couldn’t agree more.

An ad featuring basketball legend Lebron James talking to a younger version of himself in 2003 shows his younger version’s excitement about EVs. “Y’all got electric cars? The future is crunk!” the young James exclaims. He’s not wrong. It certainly could be if we decarbonize and accelerate an equitable clean energy transition fast enough. Pretty crunk indeed.

Newcomer EV automaker Polestar, gave a nod to Greta Thunberg in their ad, writing across the screen “No blah, blah, blah.” We even got to see a pretty cute robo-dog in the ad for Kia’s EV6. (For the record, while I’m pro EV — I’m anti robo-dog.)

Celebrities using their platforms for climate 

Outside of companies trying to sell us stuff, there are some other positive developments that we’re seeing in popular culture that should get Americans talking about climate change more often. 

First and foremost, Rihanna, one of the most popular musical performers and fashion designers in the world, made headlines this month (not only for expecting her first child) for donating $15 million to climate justice organizations. She points out that “climate disasters, which are growing in frequency and intensity, do not impact all communities equally, with communities of color and island nations facing the brunt of climate change.” She’s exactly right.  And when the world’s richest female musician puts serious money into climate justice, that has a powerful way to capture the public’s attention. 

Hollywood stars are taking action on climate, too. Often referred to as one of the greatest actors of all time, Cate Blanchett is using her platform to quite literally talk about climate change, aside from her recent film “Don’t Look Up,” which brilliantly satirizes the lack of leadership on climate change. She’s starting a podcast called “Climate of Change” co-hosted by the legendary clean energy entrepreneur and thought leader Danny Kennedy, co-founder of Sungevity and CEO of New Energy Nexus, a nonprofit that supports and accelerates clean-energy start-ups around the world. The podcast will highlight uplifting stories of groundbreaking work being done globally to tackle the climate crisis. 

Of course, what we really need is for Democrats in Washington to use the power that voters gave them in the last election to pass comprehensive climate legislation — legislation like the Build Back Better (BBB) Act, which somehow has gotten stuck on the one-yard line. It’s almost as if, for some odd reason, a few Democrats have switched teams and started playing defense, thwarting their own team from scoring. (That reason is because they receive lots of oil and gas money, by the way.)

But remember, that’s not the only game in town. Washington is just one of the many games we need to win, in order to win on climate. Other arenas where climate wins are necessary include making big changes to industries — like the auto-industry — as well as redefining the popular cultural narrative on climate. The faster we can help people wrap their heads around the clean energy revolution underfoot the faster we’ll start winning these games. And when the most watched sporting event in the country showcases advertisement after advertisement of a world with emissions free vehicles, I think that’s a very big win. 

Andreas Karelas is author of the book “Climate Courage: How Tackling Climate Change Can Build Community, Transform the Economy, and Bridge the Political Divide in America” published by Beacon Press. He is also the founder and executive director of RE-volv, a nonprofit climate justice organization that helps fellow nonprofits across the country go solar. Follow him on Twitter: @AndreasKarelas

Previously Featured on The Hill

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