Tag Archives: Tesla

Let’s Uncover the Language Used to Discredit Tesla — #MediaAnalysis

[Note: This post was originally featured on CleanTechnica.]

As I was researching an article about Tesla’s participation in the new EV Drive Coalitionabout a week ago, I came across a source from The Daily Caller on the subject. As I skimmed, this online newspaper’s right wing ideology was quite evident — not my worldview, granted, but didn’t Sun Tzu say in The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles?” So I read on … and was amazed at how this newspaper, in the guise of reporting on new electric vehicle advocacy, offered its readers some targeted messaging, completely neglected to include many important facts, and chose language specifically intended to discredit Tesla without foundation.

Let’s do a little discourse analysis to uncover the meanings, methods, and messages within the article. It’s really fascinating! And it speaks to how much the fossil fuel industry has to lose by Tesla’s ascendancy in the automotive and energy markets through its model of a sustainable tomorrow for the planet.

The Daily Caller offers the following “About Us” information on its website:

“Founded in 2010 by Tucker Carlson, a 20-year veteran journalist, and Neil Patel, former chief policy advisor to Vice President Cheney, The Daily Caller is one of America’s largest and fastest-growing news publications. … From exposing shocking mismanagement of Republican National Committee funds to exclusively revealing the FBI’s interview with Hillary Clinton, The Daily Caller’s reporting has been thorough and tough on members of both political parties. … The Daily Caller’s reporting is distributed worldwide to over 20 million unique readers each month through our highly-visited homepage, wildly popular newsletters and apps, countless citations from the world’s other top news sites, and our vast social media following.”

discredit Tesla

Courtesy of Media Bias/ Fact Check

From the people (“Tucker Carlson,” “Neil Patel,” “Vice President Cheney,” “Hillary Clinton”), to its topics of interest (“Republican National Committee funds,” “FBI’s interview,” “both political parties”), to its audience (“unique readers”), and its self-congratulatory adjectives (“largest,” “fastest-growing,” “shocking,” “exclusively,” “thorough,” “tough,” “highly-visited,” “wildly popular,” “countless,” “vast”), The Daily Caller self-defines in terms of strongly right-biased story selection and self-aggrandizing exclamations. Noted for conservative media opinion writers and deep-thinking essayists rather than journalists who do original reporting, the news and opinion website has been labeled by Media Bias/ Fact Check as “mixed” for its numerous failed fact checks.

discredit Tesla

Framing the Status of EVs Today in Order to Discredit Tesla

Media texts represent aspects of the world that contribute to establishing, maintaining, and changing social relations of power, domination, and exploitation, according to social linguist Norman Fairclough. In today’s Trumpian world in which immigrants are enemies, the Supreme Court is partisan, health care certainty is tenuous, free trade is under fire, and tax reforms preference corporations and the über wealthy, it makes sense that Tesla would be a target of right-wing conservative attacks.

Let’s look at The Daily Caller article, “Tesla Joins Forces with GM and Others Seeking to Save Electric Car Subsidies.” The title is fairly innocuous, right? “Joins forces” has a sense of strength, and GM is certainly a stalwart Big 3 US automaker. “Save” is accurate to the intentions of the EV Drive Coalition, which says, “Without a modification to the policy, consumer demand will suffer and so will the future of EVs in the US.” And “seeking,” “save,” and “subsidies” are alliterative (repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words), so the article starts out blandly enough to draw in a wide audience of readers.

Soon into the article is the statement, “A coalition of electric vehicle companies led by Tesla is pushing and prodding the federal government to expand a tax credit set to expire that allows customers to undercut the auto market.” Ah, here’s that alliteration again (“pushing and prodding”) which, as a figure of speech, catches and holds the reader’s eye. The connotation is negative, as if a small child is pestering an adult who has more important, mature matters to handle. Then comes the first whammy (“allows customers to undercut the auto market”), which wags an admonishing finger at consumers who want to get more for less at the expense of the kindly, established US automakers. We’re led to believe that these automakers have spent decades establishing themselves through a meritocracy inherent within the American Dream. Forgotten/avoided is the US government’s $80.7 billion bailout of the auto industry that lasted from December 2008 to December 2014. Called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the program cost US taxpayers $10.2 billion.

Referring to the newly formed EV Drive Coalition as “so-called” is quite strange in a subsequent sentence. Usually, “so-called” means something that is alleging to be something you are not sure it is. That is the Coalition’s name, so the implication is that it’s really not a coalition in actual practice — it’s a convenience for press releases and governmental advocacy.

“Tesla CEO Elon Musk has previously mentioned that the company can survive without government assistance” combines 2 notions — 1) survival and 2) federal cash injections to prop up a faltering business model. Now The Daily Caller has a rallying cry that the far right can grasp. Using long-debunked myths about renewable energy, the article echoes sentiments from the Heritage Foundation: “Conservatives believe in free markets, not central planning. They believe in fiscal responsibility, not waste.” EV companies and customers, by extension, that require tax credits as major purchasing factors of electric vehicles are wasting taxpayers’ money. So the right-wing website asserts.

discredit Tesla

Soon the article states that “the market for inexpensive electric vehicles will dry up without the extension.” Actually, that’s not what the EV Drive Coalition says on its website. Instead, it argues, “Without a modification to the policy, consumer demand will suffer and so will the future of EVs in the US.” Both use existential propositions, suggesting that such a concept is absolutely going to happen. Now, you and I who understand that the future must have zero-emissions transportation might have suggested slightly different wording to this Coalition sentence. Yes, losing the tax credit may hurt sales in the short term. But once more people learn that 59–62% of the electrical energy of an EV is converted into power to turn the wheels, as opposed to a gasoline engine, where only 17–21% of the chemical energy in the fuel is turned into useful work — and once they realize how that relates to their bank accounts — EVs will be more in demand. (Source: Designing Climate Solutions, Chapter 8.)

Then The Daily Caller article turns specifically to Tesla and its CEO, telling its audience that“Musk frequently assures people that Tesla does not require government help.” The article cites a 2015 interview with CNBC where Musk says of tax incentives, “None of them are necessary; they are all helpful.” Essentially, the claim that alternative energy entities like the Tesla network exist because of government subsidization is not really true. The reality also is that even without the existence of such programs, the companies in question could very well have remained viable simply by expanding more slowly than they have — the support programs are mostly a means of increasing the rate of development/growth. Governments provide help (“government subsidies,” “government loan,” “heavy government support”) in order to stimulate economic activity, maintain technological stature with other countries, and, in the case of Tesla, lower pollution levels. (If you want to learn more about Tesla and its government subsidies, check out this CleanTechnica article.)

Moving back — finally — to the title topic of EV Drive Coalition launch, the articles cites unnamed “analysts” who argue that Musk’s companies are “particularly sensitive to the whims of legislators.” If dialogue is rich communication between people as social agents and as personalities, then we absolutely need attribution to know to whom it is we are speaking when we refer to such “analysts,” presumably smart people who decry Tesla’s viability as “particularly sensitive.” How else could we ask them questions and learn more? How could we judge their expertise?

Moreover, by describing US representatives as conceding to “whims,” the article is lambasting both sides of an entrenched partisan Congress. Even the Koch brother-funded candidates are under attack here — stand your ground, you who vacillate with your conscience!

Noting that “Californians made up nearly 50 percent of Tesla’s customers” reminds rural audience members that those who buy EVs aren’t really in your tribe, anyway, so do you want to even consider purchasing an EV and being associated with those tree-hugging socialists?

Reinforcing its premise that “elimination of the tax credit could seriously hobble Tesla” (with “hobble” as an allusion to rugged individualists whose lives depend on mobility), the article says that Tesla still has an “inability to mass produce vehicles at the scale of its larger competitors.” Yes, that’s true in a literal sense. Tesla hasn’t sold the numbers that much older automakers have, and it’s still ramping up its robotic assembly lines for optimal manufacturing.

Then again, Tesla was incorporated in 2003 and now, 15 years later, sells the Model S, Model X, and Model 3 vehicles, Powerwall and Powerpack batteries, solar panels, solar roof tiles, and related products. But Tesla’s strategy is to change the automotive industry by fitting innovative pieces together in a “complex coordination” that’s really different in marketing, production, sales, and technology from its competitors. Perhaps that’s what’s more important right now than Tesla’s current scale — the possibilities for Tesla to reinvent what manufacturing looks like in the US at a time when disenfranchised voters have turned to an avowed racist to lead the country due to their ennui about a loss of US manufacturing.

Final Thoughts

Discursive strategies can be used in the media to produce particular effects and contribute to the construction of social realities. The narrative that The Daily Caller drew upon to question EVs, generally, and Tesla, specifically, supports biases or points of view that were transmitted by an informative discourse conveyed by conservative media.

Media exerts strong influence in several domains — social, political, economic, legal, and behavioral, and it operates from a symbolic perspective. Symbolism can lead us to consider the information transmitted as a “view” of the event, a construct, rather than as the clipping of a given reality. Anytime we can slow down our reading of the media and look at political discourse as the process of production and interpretation of a text in meaningful political, social and cultural contexts, we all benefit.

Advertisements

The Ticket To Ride: Elon’s Tweets + Participatory Culture

[Note: This post was originally featured on CleanTechnica.]

The recent US Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) censure of Tesla CEO Elon Musk due to his tweets points out how far removed many US major institutions are from the reality of effective contemporary communication.

Social media, with its potential for candid and fluid back-and-forth chats, can develop relationships in a more natural, organic, and influential way than corporate communications historically have.

It also promotes and reinforces knowledge and thoughtful discussion, sometimes hastening important social change.

Musk’s social media messaging is indicative of today’s participatory allure, in which consumers have a real chance of grabbing Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame and in which corporations can learn and improve.

Elon's tweets

Warhol’s epiphany into the post-modern individual anticipated that, as cameras shrank and screens multiplied, the barriers to everyday people’s fame would be reduced.

An individual like Elon Musk, who possesses power in the current moment as well as a keen vision of a sustainable world tomorrow, epitomizes social power asymmetries where the famous interact with the familiar.

Elon’s tweets, as far as we have seen after much research, have never come across as fraudulent statements nor misrepresentations of fiscal status.

Yet, the SEC has demanded that Tesla “put in place additional controls and procedures to oversee Musk’s communications.” Not only are many of us skeptical that Musk will adhere to the exact letters of the SEC deal, but it seems incredibly obvious that the SEC has missed out on the big picture of contemporary social media marketing and has attempted to stifle something it should be promoting — transparency and communication between companies and their shareholders and customers.

Interconnections between Tesla’s rise in the marketplace and Musk’s tweets have never been a secret, as the SEC acknowledged in its settlement press release (“despite notifying the market in 2013 that it intended to use Musk’s Twitter account as a means of announcing material information about Tesla and encouraging investors to review Musk’s tweets”). The specific argument that the SEC has made about one specific idea or possibility for the company (claiming that there were “false and misleading tweets about a potential transaction to take Tesla private”) seems contradictory to how Elon Musk uses Twitter and how his followers understand he uses it, which is to engage with consumers and shareholders and thus provide them with more of a voice on substantial company matters. Announcing the idea on Twitter was a way — the most logical way — to specifically ask all shareholders for their perspective on that idea. Musk used the term “considering” and said in the end that the decision to proceed or not was up to shareholders. What more could a shareholder want than to be involved in such a momentous decision?

A Market Playing Field that’s More Even with Musk and Twitter?

“The future of advertising is the internet.”
— Bill Gates

Tesla’s 2018 settlement with the SEC included an agreement that Musk would not tweet about the company without clearance from the company’s legal team. (“Tesla will establish a new committee of independent directors and put in place additional controls and procedures to oversee Musk’s communications.”) For anyone who spends at least a small time each day on one of the many and evolving social media platforms, we know that such an agreement — if it could actually be enacted — takes Musk’s voice and authenticity out of what has been long understood as Tesla’s primary method of marketing.

Tweeting is part of the Tesla marketing palette that includes YouTube as well but not traditional advertising or Facebook. The Tesla consumer base closely watches and clings to Musk’s tweets, not Tesla’s YouTube channel or even its corporate Twitter channel. The authenticity and substantive information provided by Musk on Twitter is partly why he is followed 23 million users on Twitter, while the Tesla account has attest to a mere fraction of that amount. Additionally, Musk is more playful and exposed when he Tweets. He inserts normal, human musings about the importance of innovation, particularly with regard to Tesla.

Should spur-of-the-moment comments be slowed and stifled by a panel of tweet reviewers?

Since its rise to public recognition, Tesla has insisted that traditional print advertising just isn’t the right fit for the clean energy and electric car company. The closest it got was a 2017 amateur video ad contest suggested by a 10-year-old, something Musk seemingly discovered via Twitter. Musk then announced the competition via Twitter and revealed the winner to his 11 million Twitter followers.

The tools and strategies for communicating with customers have changed significantly with the emergence of social media. Fluid internet-based messages have become a major factor in influencing various aspects of consumer behavior — consumer awareness, spread of information, opinion molding, purchase behavior, and post-purchase communication and evaluation.

Musk’s early understanding of social media’s potential as a hybrid promotional mix created the very mentor-to-consumer conversations which the SEC has designated as problematic. Honestly, though, Elon’s tweets are a signifier of the types of conversations that major corporations the world over are now incorporating to drive the marketplace. To stifle such a notable corporate user of Twitter is to suppress a shift to more fluid, open, public approach to communications.

Musk’s Tweets Translate into a Kind of Everyman Communication

“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”
— Mark Twain

Wall Street Journal conducted an analysis of Musk’s tweets from 2018 and prior, and although that exposé predated the SEC debacle, it does offer us some fascinating good insights into Musk’s tweets. His ubiquitous presence in social media everyday life has largely been about persuading an audience to drink the Tesla Kool-Aid. That should not have come as a surprise to anyone, including the SEC.

However, he does so in a way that is highly atypical of large corporate CEOs — he replies a great deal of the time to fellow Tweeters. He is not only disseminating a message. There is clearly mutual reciprocity in this communication — a genuine back and forth. Many consumer ideas are incorporated into the products, and it appears Musk intends to engage shareholder ideas in a similar way.

Elon's tweets

Graphic via WSJ

It gets even more interesting.

Elon’s replies are not exclusively for big-named individuals with gigantic numbers of followers. Rather, they tend to be directed more to people who have fewer than 500 followers than those who have over 2000 followers. That makes Elon Musk a kind of Everyman — in a sense, he is just another social media user who shares experiences, interpretations, and perspectives.

Musk validates participants who use social media — people aiming to generate ideas about society’s sustainability problems and solutions, people aiming to improve Tesla’s products, and people simply looking for some connection with one of the most influential people in society, someone who inspires them. His insistence on behaving as an Everyman rather than an uberman gives others the confidence to aspire to the same level of success, realizing that he is just human as they are.

Social co-production, in which humans produce something together despite being miles apart, is the foundation of social media. The SEC agreement alienates communicative co-production across classes and geography.

Elon's tweets

Because Musk’s Twitter tone is casual, he seems more approachable and real than other corporate CEOs. As early as 2006, Henry Jenkins coined the term “participatory culture” to describe US teens who were becoming media creators. Web 2.0, as it has also been called, transformed information dissemination and formalized digital technologies’ role in social persuasion. It designates the involvement of users, audiences, consumers, and fans in the creation of culture and content.

Elon Musk’s tweets have become more than a give-and-take with followers and even contain the occasional self-deprecating humor. Indeed, Jenkins‘ description of participatory culture as having “relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby experienced participants pass along knowledge to novices” is a keen explanation of Musk’s relationship to his Twitter followers. He is the experienced techno-geek participant who is sharing his physics background and sustainability vision to individuals who, in turn, decide if and what type of buy-in — whether financial or philosophical — they will offer.

Wired correlated Musk’s Twitter activity and Tesla’s tumultuous stock price, highlighting the moments where the market’s evaluation of the company’s worth rose or fell based on the CEO’s posts. Is this fraud or finesse? A dialectic or disingenuous digital marketing?

Elon's tweets

Elon's tweets

Final Thoughts

“Advertising is the art of convincing people to
spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need.”
— Will Rogers

Elon Musk’s tweets as effective climate change infotainment and for-profit argumentation should be distinguished from out-and-out overt attempts to unfairly manipulate the capitalist system.

Musk is an object lesson for the rest of us about the profit and persuasion inherent within social media. As he is unlike corporate CEOs in many other ways, Elon’s tweets, too, are uniquely Elon. While most CEOs have an invisible infrastructure that designs media messages as carefully controlled speech, Musk is authentic, unpredictable, and representative of our society today. It is one of the things his followers absolutely love about him and Tesla.

Social media offers a melting pot communicative exchange, a disregard for traditional media measures, and an opportunity to make transparent participatory culture’s influence on social norms and markets. Let’s let Elon be Elon, shall we? We’ll benefit in the long run from his art and spontaneity.

Elon's tweets

Branding Opportunities around the Holidays: Tesla and Radio Flyer

A child looks up wide-eyed as the holiday tree twinkles. “Ooh! A Tesla! My own Tesla!” she cries out, a smile spread wide across her face.

It’s a scene that’s been played out, in one form or another, for generations. This year’s holiday dream-come-true is the Tesla Radio Flyer Model S Electric Kids Car. In another generation long ago, it was the No. 4 Liberty Coaster — the first in the long line of historic Radio Flyer wagons to come from an immigrant named Antonio Pasin.

There’s another immigrant whose skills, like Pasin, brought him to the United States. Elon Musk, too, sought the refuge of new beginnings. After being bullied as a school child in Pretoria, South Africa, Musk attended college in Canada before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania in the U.S. Musk has been the driving force behind Tesla Motors, Inc., one of the most innovative technology companies of the 21st century, and has revolutionized how we think about transportation.

tesla-radio-flyer

With a keen business sense, Musk knows that Tesla should be looking to the next generation of U.S. citizens in the same ways that other companies seek out branding opportunities. Branding, which is the marketing practice of creating a recognizable name that holds deeper symbolic meaning, identifies and differentiates a product from others in its line. And branding has the capacity to instill positive images of Tesla for generations to come through a sense of nostalgia.

Enter the Tesla Radio Flyer Model S Electric Kids Car.

Robert Pasin, a grandson of founder Antonio Pasin, is “chief wagon officer” for Radio Flyer and has run the company since 1997. He spoke about the connection between certain classic or nostalgic items from our childhoods and their associated branding. “People love them,” he admitted readily, while also acknowledging that a company is “always going to be innovating.” The idea of Tesla in the Radio Flyer business family also helped to solve some of the electric generating problems that the company had encountered.

“When we started looking at the category of battery-operated ride-ons, one of the main pain points consumers would talk about is whenever the kid wanted to ride the car, the battery was dead. Our team thought they could solve it with a lithium-ion battery, but it’s really expensive. So if we were going to do lithium-ion, we should partner with Tesla, because they have the hottest, coolest electric car on the planet. We pitched it to Tesla about three years ago.”

According to Tesla, “Every Tesla Model S for Kids is a battery powered ride on that comes equipped with high-end features to recreate the ultimate Tesla experience.” Like the Radio Flyer brand itself, the Tesla for Kids car has the potential to become an American icon.

For 98 years, Radio Flyer toys have sent children on countless voyages of fantasy. With beauty, simplicity, and standards of safety, Radio Flyer toys have encouraged adventure and discovery; they’ve helped to capture the wonders of youth. In the same way that the Radio Flyer is rediscovered with each new generation, so, too, can the Tesla become part of a nostalgia of the timeless symbol of childhood freedom.

Moreover, Tesla will be adding credibility from a parent’s point of view with the Tesla Radio Flyer Model S Electric Kids Car. Just like the full size Tesla, parents can choose the paint color, performance, accessories, and personalization. Pasin says of their pitch to Tesla, “They didn’t bat an eye at Radio Flyer, but it did take awhile to sign the deal and convince (Tesla) it was a good thing to do.”

Pasin thinks his grandfather would like the Tesla within their product line. “One of his nicknames was ‘Little Ford,’” Pasin remembers. “The idea was he did for wagons what Ford did for cars. He was really interested in the latest and greatest products; he was not a nostalgic person at all. Partnering with Tesla, he would have thought was just awesome.”

And so will lots of children this holiday season when they discover a Tesla under the tree.

[A different version of this article appeared on Teslarati.]

Photo credit: Tesla