Terrafugia Is a Media Fad, Not a PR Dream Client: Why Novelty Marketing Doesn’t Work
By Mike Caudill, President, DRIVEN Public Relations
As an automotive expert making appearances on Fox News/Fox 11 Los Angeles, KTLA and a correspondent for a host of other media outlets, I feel there’s yet another perspective that needs to be shared related to the “The PR Spin Debate Soars Again” article about the marketing efforts behind Terrafugia.
This is the company manufacturing the latest “air car” to grab a lot of media attention. I have been following Terrafugia for quite some time, and believe that what makes the auto industry exciting are companies like Terrafugia that showcase new and innovative products. The question is, “Are these types of new and innovative products really going to come to the marketplace in mass?” The answer is no.
The Terrafugia is unique, but it is 100% a novelty and is not meant for the mass market. While the videos of the Terrafugia flying are wonderful to watch, I have yet to see the Terrafugia driving on surface streets, through traffic or on freeways. That’s because it’s likely 85% plane, 15% car. So, from a practicality standpoint, it won’t reach mass market. Now, for a much smaller percentage of the population, say 1% or less, this will be appealing. I am sure Terrafugia would agree that this product is meant for a very specific person with a very specific pocketbook, and that’s OK.
The auto, motorcycle, aviation and marine industries continually need innovation and the Terrafugia accomplishes this.
From a PR standpoint, it’s a dream account. It’s very easy to pitch as long as you have a product to take to news outlets to review and see in person. However, the shelf life of PR around this product may run short and more importantly and will really not work to sell the product. The price tag is $200,000+, which means early adopters and those with disposable income. And let’s not forget about the required sport aircraft flight instruction hours and license needed to fly. Wait, there is still more – there is no infrastructure, operational guidelines and no standards set forth by the FAA and NHTSA for this type of aircraft. Once the plane turns in to a car, it must meet NHTSA safety standards, which many cars currently on the road already struggle with.
I would argue that for those who have the appetite to fly, take a look at a product like the ICON Aircraft. It’s been developed by former military pilots and is meant to be a smaller, enjoyable sports plane for entry-level pilots. It’s also more affordable and can be purchased today.
The hype will continue, but the news will fade in and out over the next month.
So, here’s a big TIP to PR pros: When you have a niche product like this, don’t go for the homerun—look for singles. It’s very easy to sweep through New York on a media tour to drive interest, but when you have a product that hasn’t been widely seen and isn’t visible in the marketplace, look to draw out the PR program over a 8-12 month period. Pick three cities for a national tour, but then look for low hanging fruit between programs. Work with the client on understanding this strategy of creating momentum. As a PR agency, we have worked it both ways and the old saying, “slow and steady wins the race” will pay dividends (and retainer fees) down the road!
To the team at Terrafugia: I love the look, concept and am one of the immortal glassy-eyed hopefuls that this will catch on, but for now, we are going to be left only dreaming of “Jetson-like” transportation.
By Mike Caudill is president of DRIVEN Public Relations. Mike is an automotive industry expert and has made appearances on KTLA-5 Los Angeles, NBC’s Whipnotic, Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, and served as the host of Fastlane at the Auto Show. Mike has also served as the Automotive Expert for NADAguides.com, the consumer arm of the National Automobile Dealers Association. As President and CEO of DRIVEN Public Relations, Mike is the company’s top public relations specialist and personally oversees the management of DRIVEN PR’s clients.