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The 10 Best Tesla Commercials That Weren't Really Commercials

Tesla gets launched into space

Tesla manages to make publicity serve as commercials for its cars

Tesla famously doesn’t spend any money on advertising, while other automakers are spending billions.

By Roy Nakano

Mon, Mar 11, 2024 04:06 PM PST

Above: In 2018, Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster served as a dummy payload for the Space X Falcon Heavy test flight. It became the first car to be launched in space. The event was live streamed on YouTube, making it the second most watched live event on the social media platform (palette knife rendering by R. Nakano).

Year-after-year, automakers spend billions of dollars on advertising, and Tesla - the company with a net worth exceeding all other automakers - famously doesn’t spend any money on advertising. Or at least not on conventional advertising. In 2020, the company even dissolved its public relations department, becoming the first major automaker that doesn’t officially talk to the press.

How to Get in the News Without Ads

Of course, Tesla gets plenty of press coverage. And it’s not just the automotive press. Mainstream media keeps an eagle eye on Tesla’s latest developments, both good and bad. And Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, manages to be in the global news on an almost daily basis.

The news surrounding Musk’s purchase of the social media giant formerly known as Twitter for $44 billion may have topped them all. Tesla’s stock market value sank $125 billion the day after the acquisition, raising concern that the preoccupation with Twitter (now renamed X) would have consequences on the car company.

All News is Good News?

The notion that publicity, no matter how bad, can also be good publicity has been around for a long time. It goes back to at least the 18th century, where the phrase “all news is good news” has been attributed to the French author of Dangerous Liaisons. However, the most famous quote on the subject is likely the one credited to circus owner PT Barnum, “There's no such thing as bad publicity, as long as they spell your name right.”

While there are plenty of situations where bad publicity spelled the end of a company, there have been some notable exceptions where seemingly bad publicity for Tesla has ultimately had some positive benefits. That’s certainly the case with the examples that landed on our list of the 10 best Tesla commercials that weren’t really commercials.

No. 1 - Model Y falls 250 feet off a steep cliff and occupants all survive.

This one happened in early 2023, and involved a white Tesla Model Y carrying two adults and two children. The car plunged 250 feet off of Highway 1, about 20 miles south of San Francisco, flipping several times before landing right-side up at the bottom of the cliff in an area called the Devil’s Slide, leaving the car virtually unrecognizable.

image of the Tesla Y that fell off a cliff
That white spot near the bottom of the Devil’s Slide cliff is the Tesla Model Y that plunged 250 feet. All four passengers miraculously survived (palette knife rendering of a freeze frame from a January 2, 2023 Facebook video by the CAL FIRE CZU San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit).

Said Brian Pottenger, battalion chief with Cal Fire’s Coastside Fire Protection District, to CNN, “Accidents on that cliff are not rare. We do respond to a lot of vehicles on that cliff. What’s rare is that we do not get a lot of survivors – surviving this type of accident is very rare.” Not only did all the occupants survive, they all escaped serious injury. Law enforcement later arrested the driver for attempted homicide, alleging he intentionally drove the car off the cliff.

Tesla has always touted the safety of their vehicles. The occupants are lucky to have survived the crash, and not even Tesla will claim that other owners would be as lucky under similar conditions. On the other hand, there is no doubt their survival reinforces the high marks that Tesla receives for crash safety.

No. 2 – Bullets are fired into the new Cybertruck. None penetrate.

bullets are fired into the Tesla Cybertruck
Tesla CEO Elon Musk demonstrates the protective steel panels of the Cybertruck by spraying bullets into its body using a Thompson submachine gun (watercolor rendering inspired by a Tesla Owners of Silicon Valley video).

During the long-awaited launch of the first production Cybertrucks off of the assembly line in late 2023, Tesla demonstrated the strength of its exterior steel panels by spraying bullets into the side of the car. A lot of pockmarks were created making the vehicle look like it had acne scars, but none of the bullets penetrated. Social media was abuzz with photos of the Cybertruck after the demonstration. The message: The Cybertruck is one tough cookie. Commercial advertisement spent: Zero.

No. 3 - The ball and hammer demo at the Cybertruck debut

Here’s an example of a demonstration fail that still managed to disproportionately publicize Tesla and keep the brand fresh in the minds of potential buyers. In November of 2019, Tesla introduced the prototype of its new Cybertruck at the SpaceX facilities in Inglewood, California. To show off the strength of its doors, Tesla chief designer Franz von Holzhausen used a sledgehammer and took a whack to its driver door without any apparent damage.

Von Holzhausen followed it up with a large steel ball tossed to the Cybertruck driver side window to show how tough the glass is. Only this time, the ball cracked the window in a very noticeable and rather embarrassing fashion. Gary Kumparak reported in Yahoo! Finance that the mishap caused Tesla CEO Elon Musk to utter “Oh my [bleeping] God!” Confident that the mishap was an anomaly, Musk had von Holzhausen repeat the demonstration on the driver side rear window. And once again, the steel ball cracked the window in an equally noticeable and embarrassing fashion.

the sledgehammer that did indeed crack the window of the Tesla
From the Petersen Automotive Museum’s “Inside Tesla: Supercharging the Electric Revolution” exhibit: The sledgehammer used during the Cybertruck’s debut to demonstrate the strength of the doors. Also displayed: the steel ball thrown to show the strength of the side windows, but ended up cracking them (image by R. Nakano).

The Cybertruck debut made the news big time, but it was the demonstration mishap that was front and center. And while the cracked windows were reported as a very public blunder on the part of Tesla, it’s doubtful the Cybertruck would have gotten as much coverage had the blunder not occurred. Moreover, the mishap hasn’t hurt the vehicle’s image. While the glass may not be steel ball-proof, its resistance to damage is clearly understood. Even Tesla has made the most of it by enshrining the hammer and ball in a display case for the “Inside Tesla: Supercharging the Electric Revolution” exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum.

No. 4 – Ford announced it is converting to Tesla’s charging system. Almost everyone else follows.

This one is another 2023 occurrence, and the full repercussions keep unfolding. Within the electric vehicle community, it was common knowledge for years that the most reliable and easiest to operate charging stations were the Tesla Supercharger stations with its North American Charging Standard (NACS). They are also the most abundant, with over 2,128 charging stations established throughout the country as of January of 2024 according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That’s the overwhelming majority of all charging stations in the USA. Tesla says it has over 50,000 charging stations globally.

a Fort with a Tesla reflection
Ford was the first major manufacturer to follow Tesla’s use of its North American Charging Standard (NACS). Above: The Mustang Mach-E in the foreground; Tesla Model Y in the reflection (composite derived from press photographs by Ford Motor Company and Tesla).

So, it’s a wonder why it took so long, but in May of 2023 Ford became the first major automaker to announce it will change over to NACS. In June of 2023, the SAE International announced that the NACS system would be standardized as SAE J3400. General Motors followed Ford’s footsteps and announced its EVs would all adopt the same standard. Others quickly followed. Each time, the announcements make the national news. And each time, it was like another advertisement for Tesla, except that it’s not spending any money on commercials.

As of February of 2024, Aptera, BMW Group (includes Rolls Royce and MINI), Fisker, Ford Motor Company (includes Lincoln), General Motors (includes Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac), Honda Motor Group (includes Acura), Hyundai Motor Group (includes KIA and Genesis), Jaguar Land Rover, Lucid, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan Group (includes Infiniti), Polestar, Rivian, Stellantis, Subaru, Toyota Group (includes Lexus), Volvo, and Volkswagen Group (includes Audi, Bentley, Porsche, and Lamborghini) all announced they would offer electric vehicles sold in the North American market with J3400 charge ports from the factory starting in 2025 and make adapters available for their existing EVs.

No. 5 – The UAW strikes against Ford, GM and Stellantis

The United Auto Workers strike in mid-to-late 2023 against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis for a 40 percent increase in wages shined an indirect light on Tesla. That’s because Tesla is a non-union company. Its wages are far less than the legacy manufacturers, which gives the perception that when you buy a Tesla, a smaller portion is going to pay autoworkers. In turn, it gives the perception you can buy more car for your money.

union workers on strike
United Auto Workers on strike, September 26, 2023, at the GM Willow Run Distribution Center in Michigan (official White House photograph by Adam Schultz).

Evidently, Tesla compensates for its lower wages in part by offering stock options to the workers. Knowing how much Tesla stock has skyrocketed over the years, the stock options appear to be sufficient incentive to thwart successful efforts to unionize at Tesla. Outside the community of strong union supporters, the strike serves as a commercial for purchasing Teslas.

No. 6 – Elon Musk Buys Twitter

On its face, this move seemed like the worst nightmare for Tesla - and it was in so many ways. As Automotive Design Organization CEO and former LA Car Editor John Grafman put it, “Elon bought Twitter, stock prices tanked, Tesla stockholders got nervous with Elon’s involvement, millions of dollars of free advertising, and it only cost billions of dollars.”

This is not the kind of publicity that typically results in more sales. Tesla sales initially went the way of its stock prices after Musk fired a large number of the Twitter staff that didn’t already leave. The repercussions at Twitter, now known as X, continued for months and the dust has yet to settle at the social media company.

twitter logos
Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter seemed like the worst nightmare for Tesla. It forced the company to slash its prices. Ultimately, however, it ended up yielding record sales for its products (image by Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan, courtesy of Public Domain Pictures).

Notwithstanding the shenanigans at the social media giant, Tesla’s response was to slash prices. When it did so, people responded by buying Teslas in droves. This made the legacy carmakers selling EVs very unhappy, as it forced them to adjust their EV prices in response. But because Tesla doesn’t have independent dealers to contend with, it can change prices at the drop of a hat. This power Tesla has only recently exploited to its full potential. Certain Tesla models were never cheaper, and the consumers have been responding with their credit cards in hand.

“Yup, all that is true,” replies Grafman. “However, it didn’t sound planned but rather a happy stroke of luck. Of course, pissing off his core buyers due to his behavior isn’t exactly the best way to get attention. Then again, maybe he subscribes to the ‘Any news is good news’ form of marketing.”

No. 7 - The Petersen Automotive Museum’s “Inside Tesla: Supercharging the Electric Revolution” Exhibit

Anyone who frequents the local auto shows can tell you Tesla rarely has an exhibit on display. Being an automotive “no show” seems to be gaining more traction these days (see LA Car’s The 2023 Car(pet) and Vacuum Show). In 2022, Tesla worked with the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles to open “Inside Tesla: Supercharging the Electric Revolution” (see LA Car’s Is Tesla Stealing the LA Auto Show’s Thunder?).

Tesla Cybertruck at the Peterson in Los Angeles
Tesla worked with the Petersen Automotive Museum to open its “Inside Tesla: Supercharging the Electric Revolution” exhibit smack in the middle of the LA Auto Show and continuing long thereafter (photograph by R. Nakano).

This opened smack in the middle of the LA Auto Show. Unlike the LA Auto Show, however, the Petersen’s exhibit would continue on long past show at the LA Convention Center. In fact, it continued on through the LA Auto Show for the following year. At the time of this writing, the Petersen’s Tesla exhibit will continue through April of 2024. The Petersen bills it as the most comprehensive collection of Tesla vehicles ever curated. We’ve seen the exhibit and have no doubt its publicity potential surpasses any single exhibit at an auto show.

No. 8 - Tesla is the Most Recalled Automotive Brand. On the Other Hand, Most of the Fixes Are OTA.

Tesla recalls get a lot of press coverage. Part of that may be due to the number of recalls. As reported by Mark Vaughn of Autoweek, Tesla is the most recalled automotive brand. Autoweek based its report on 2023 data issued by the search engine, declaring the Tesla Model Y as the most recalled car in the USA and the Models 3, X, and S also occupying the top five spots.

image of the Tesla exploded
A Tesla Model Y on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum serves as a metaphor for all the “over the air” fixes it receives (photograph by R. Nakano).

Ordinarily, one wouldn’t consider press coverage of recalls positive publicity. However, in Tesla’s case, most of the recalls are corrected by an over-the-air (OTA) software update. And most of the press coverage makes note of this attribute. So instead of having to schedule an appointment with a dealer and taking time off to get the recall repaired, most Tesla recalls are taken care of without having to make any special arrangements.

No. 9 - Homemade Commercials

Who needs to invest millions into commercials when your fans will make them for you? This must have crossed the minds over at the Tesla think tank when the company launched a competition for commercials in 2017.

image from a video
Scene from Marques Brownlee’s winning entry in Tesla’s Project Loveday contest of amateur commercials (see details below)

As the story goes, the suggestion came from a fifth-grader. Less than a week later, Tesla launched the contest. It was called Project Loveday, named after 10-year old Bria Loveday - the fifth-grader that came up with the idea. As told by Tesla, Bria wrote: 

“I have noticed that you do not advertise…Many people make homemade commercials and some of them are very good, they look professional and are entertaining. So, I think that you should run a competition on who can make the best homemade Tesla commercial.”

Out of hundreds of submissions, Tesla’s Project Loveday selected 10 videos to showcase based on “originality, creativity, relevance to Tesla and its mission, and entertainment value.” From there, the three most popular entries were deemed the winners.

What did it cost Tesla? Not a whole lot. Tesla invited the grand prize winner to a product launch, paid for travel expenses and accommodations for two people for two nights. You can view the winning entry by well-known YouTuber Marques Brownlee here.

10. - Tesla Has a “Seven Nation Army” to Defend Against All

Taylor Swift may have her Swifties and BTS has the BTS Army, but Tesla arguably has the most fiercely loyal fan base in the world of automotive brands. How fierce you ask? Fierce enough for one Tesla owner to turn on another for not being loyal enough.

image of the first delivers from the Tesla factory
A Tesla Model S parade is held during the vehicle’s first deliveries at the company’s Fremont, California factory in June of 2012 (Tim Draper/Steve Jurvetson photograph, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

That happened to Tesla Model X owner Sergio Rodriguez, who shared his joy in adding a Ford Mustang Mach-E to his electric stable among Tesla Worldwide Owners Facebook members. Many members applauded his continued support of electric propulsion, But Rodriguez reported “about 65 percent of the comments were just bashing me.” He continued: “One was, like, I hope the car loses control and crashes.” (see LA Car’s “US VS THEM”).

Death wishes notwithstanding, there is an upside to all of this for Tesla. Every time there’s a disparaging comment made on an online paper, a social media posting, or some other public venue, there’s a Tesla stan or two ready to defend the company, its CEO, and its products. If a misleading or inaccurate comment is made about Tesla or electric vehicles in general, they are ready, willing, and able to make certain it’s corrected.

It’s Tesla’s own Seven Nation Army. And just as The White Stripes sing about it in their song, Tesla’s army is ready to defend. This is public relations service that money can’t buy and beyond what any PR firm can do.

It’s A Whole New Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World

The rules keep getting rewritten about how to promote products. Traditional advertisements have to make room for blogs, podcasts, social media, the daily news cycle and other arenas where influencers, algorithms and artificial intelligence may roam. We’ll be looking out for new examples of the best commercials that aren’t really commercials, and will post them on LA Car’s Facebook site. We welcome you to add your candidates for this surely fluid list.

Credit for the image of the Tesla Model S parade: Wikimedia Commons

About The Author

Roy Nakano's profile picture

Roy Nakano

Roy Nakano gave birth to LACar in the late '90s, having previously delivered LA Audio File back in the '80s. Aside from the occasional review, Roy likes to stray off the beaten automotive path: "Six Degrees of Reparations" reflected on the regretful ethical paths taken by car companies throughout history. "Traveling Through the Past and Present of the Green Book" looked at businesses that took a stand against racism and the man that wrote the book on where to find them. "Best Cars to Drive in Rush Hour Traffic" was an LACar guide published in the pre-GPS era. "In Search of the First Datsun 510 Tuner" looked at one of the milestones in the origin of import tuners.

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