Branding Better Place: Building an Electric Vehicle Movement

Designers Accord

This summer, Better Place won an INDEX Award in the Community category for its infrastructure that would make electric vehicles more accessible for consumers. The concept came from CEO Shai Agassi, who left the World Economic Forum in Davos two years ago inspired to make the world a "better place" by 2020. His idea, a system that allowed people to easily charge and swap the batteries at home or work would massively shift the automobile from a dependence on oil and towards more renewable energies.

But Better Place doesn't offer a new product or technology when it comes to transportation, it merely unites many of the solutions that already exist, bringing them together a smarter, more efficient way. That was the challenge in and of itself, says John Creson, whose Berkeley, California-based firm Addis Creson, along with PR company Hill & Knowlton, was responsible for branding the system and translating its benefits to consumers. In essence, they were entrusted with helping to envision a post-petroleum future for drivers who wanted to make better choices.

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ROLL OUT
Addis Creson was brought into strategic meetings early on with Agassi to decide on the branding direction. A core idea was built around the four P's:  That choices at the Pump negatively affects People, the Planet, and Prosperity. "By enabling one simple change--from Pump to Plug--Better Place is setting out to create far-reaching positive change for people around the globe," says Creson. "Visually, we depict this as moving from the black spot to the blue 'Switch,' our symbol that embodies the Earth and our optimistic path to the future."

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A quarter-circle shape could morph three-dimensionally into the shape of a car or other shapes in animations. The shape with the piece missing also inferred that many elements needed to come together to achieve new solutions. This was symbolic of the many contributions from a unique group of partners including charging stations, designed by New Deal Design (and Fast Company's own guest blogger Gadi Amit) that would become iconic landmarks in the community. An exclusive deal with Renault-Nissan and Fluence ZE will create cars equipped with GPS-type interfaces that would provide not only mapping services, but act as a type of concierge service, directing drivers to the next charge station.

IDEAS IN MOTION
The Better Place story had to speak to everyone from potential drivers to civic leaders, to automotive industry leaders, to energy companies, to investors. Videos were created early on to simply communicate the idea to a wide audience. One video produced demonstrated the concept and benefits, another video demonstrates a day-in-the-life of a family using Better Place. Animation was an easy way to make those connections, says Creson. "These connect the identity from a switch from oil to a plug and how it fits into the consumers lives."

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FUTURE IS NOW
Another interesting challenge for a Better Place was the importance of communicating that the concept was not so far-flung that it seemed unreasonable or unattainable for potential consumers. "It's not like a flying car," says Creson. "We already have these things in place--it's a matter of putting them together in the right way so they can work." So especially in the renderings, elements like the switch station robotic arm, which can swap out batteries so people don't have to wait at charging stations, had to be shown as a realistic, everyday object--as usual as a gas station.

The electric vehicle stigma was another hurdle to overcome. Better Place had to show that the solution for oil independence would come from Silicon Valley, not Detroit. That meant they were free to create new user-friendly terminology. "We needed to define a new model and infrastruture grid," for potential customers, says Creson. "This new language would help them go from one system to another by creating the greatest comfort in their mind."

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GRASSROOTS AMBASSADORS
As the program rolls out in Israel in 2010 with more pilot programs expected in Denmark, Australia, California, Hawaii--100,000 electric cars in Israel and Denmark have been pledged by 2016--the challenge now is to keep interest in those communities that might not see a Better Place for five years or more. The awareness push quickly changed into mantaining a sustained movement. "How to we keep them excited and interested?" asks Creson. "Do we get them to petition politicians and talk to their government?"

To keep this momentum going, Better Place allowed people to create "minifestos," short videos that would allow others to engage with their story, making them ambassadors for the cause and creating more social dlalogue that could be spread virally. A website hosting the videos acted as another portal, with bloggers covering narrative issues related to oil independence and auto industry--and keep the conversation going until Better Place could be found any place on the planet.

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