Deconstruction Zone: Nissan Leaf Polar Bear Commercial

By Charles Krome

It’s obvious you’re in for a maudlin minute or so as soon as you hear the tinkling piano and see the melting ice drip-dropping on your screen—you know, sort of like tears. Then, after a quick shot of dirty ice falling from a calving glacier, you finally get to see the star of the show: A sad-looking polar bear alone on a shrinking ice floe, paws crossed beneath his chin like a six-year-old who’s been sent for a “timeout” for reasons he doesn’t understand.

I really feel kind of sorry for the bear, too: Not only does he have to deal with a shrinking habitat, but he’s also been stuck into one of the cheesiest commercials currently on the air today, the new spot for the Nissan Leaf.

It’s the touching story of a lone polar bear, traveling from what used to be his preferred environment, an Arctic wasteland of snow and ice that’s now become an expanse of open water, to thank a kind Leaf owner who is doing his part to stop that darned global warming. Along the way, our hero takes shelter in a culvert during a rainstorm (while a tanker truck, no doubt full of gasoline, passes overhead), cavorts with a friendly butterfly, roars at a fuel-guzzling 18-wheeler, stops for a drink at the local watering hole, crosses paths with a garbage truck (likely filled with plastic and other petroleum-based trash) and finally stops at a suburban home to maul, I mean hug, Joe Family Man (note the wedding ring), who is almost certainly on his way to a Greenpeace meeting in his new Leaf.

All in all, it’s a bit like seeing Old Yeller in a commercial for dog chow.

But here’s my real problem with the ad: I don’t think Nissan is going to have much trouble selling Leaf (Leaves?) to the save-the-polar-bear crowd. It’s an electric vehicle with a relatively affordable price tag of $25,280 (after a $7,500 tax credit), a practical range of about 100 miles on a single charge and a highway-capable top speed of some 90 mph. That combination alone is enough to get the hard-core greens ready to buy the Nissan EV.

The thing is, for EVs to start having any kind of significant impact on the marketplace, you’re going to have to start attracting mainstream drivers who are looking for a no-sacrifices ride that just happens to run on electricity. Trying to guilt these people into a Leaf purchase with images of melting glaciers and mopey polar bears won’t do the trick.

And I haven’t even mentioned the controversy over how much energy is used—and how many pollutants are emitted—in generating the electricity that powers EVs in the first place. Or the fact that Nissan also seems plenty happy to offer gas-sucking body-on-frame SUVs like the Armada, which currently “achieves” an EPA line of 12 mpg city/18 mpg highway/14 mpg combined in its four-wheel-drive configuration.

I wonder what Mr. Polar Bear thinks of that?

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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1 Comment

  1. I agree. But I also thought that they only have 60,000ish to sell of these so all they need to do is pinch them from Toyota.
    However you are absolutely right, they need to make an economic TCO argument in order to convince mainstream buyers.
    I am also concerned that they may paint themselves into a corner with a greenie ad like this.

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