Is Tesla a one-man brand? Our Culture AI investigates.

Photo by Bram Van Oost on Unsplash

Earlier in May, the ever enigmatic Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, tweeted about Tesla stocks being too high. What followed was an immediate fall of the company’s stock prices, but also a twittersphere torn between amusement and confusion.

graph of stock prices
Tesla stock prices

Musk showed the world once again how unpredictably non-traditional he is.

Known for eschewing traditional advertising approaches for his companies in favor of ‘advertising’ via his own tweets, Musk has delivered a masterclass in embracing alternative brand communications.

Just a few days ago, Musk advertised Tesla merch (specifically, ‘Tesla Short Shorts’) via a twitter thread:

Casual, conversational, hardly advertising speak, with the “!!” punctuation and “Dang”.

Addressing his consumer base looks more like this: “Thanks Tesla owners & investors! Love you!!” than a formal note. That said, how do the social media accounts of the Tesla brand look like, given their founder and CEO’s flamboyant personal twitter account?

To investigate, we ran hundreds of Instagram posts and tweets through our Culture AI and a couple of videos from the official Tesla youtube channel through our Video AI.

What are the emotions of Tesla?

The top emotion detected in Tesla’s Instagram account was solitude. Excitement and Creativity round out the top three.

From the videos, it was interesting that following solitude, ‘anxiety’ was detected as the next highest emotion, followed by excitement. This perhaps suggests that the videos contain elements of risk and uncertainty, presenting Tesla cars as luxurious, fancy, but with an edgy side.

The Lone Explorer: Powerful and Commanding

Semiotic analysis revealed that the Tesla vehicle is positioned as an Explorer.

Our Culture AI detected a cluster of Instagram post frames depicting vast, scenic landscapes. In most of these frames, only a lone Tesla car is found. This subtly brands the Tesla offering as that of a strong sense of adventure and exclusivity.

These images show that driving a Tesla liberates. The vastness of the backdrops, contrasted with the solitariness of the Tesla car moving through these grounds communicate capability and power. The cool color palette of greys, blues, and whites connote starkness, harshness but also pristineness.

They simultaneously demonstrate the Tesla car’s ability to withstand extreme weather and the sophistication of the car, positioning Tesla vehicles as hardy, rugged but at the same time very classy.

The Familiar: (Industrial) Life As You Know It

Another cluster detected by our Culture AI Semiotics model was that of familiar industrially.

These images were tagged with the machine-given labels of ‘creativity’ and ‘excitement’, indicating the overall theme of innovation at work in this cluster. Tesla takes its followers behind-the-scenes with these images, serving up a brutalist cocktail of metal frames, gears, and machines.

The message?

Behind the electric magic, we’re just like the regular guys.

While Tesla is arguably the poster child of sustainability-meets-luxury, some consumers still aren’t too sure about them. Electric vehicles are still perceived as too exotic and weird, and a definite step out of the comfort zone. After all, gas cars have worked dependably enough, and so why change? Old habits die hard, and luxury car owners would think of Ferraris, Porsches, and Lamborghinis over Teslas if they were to play it safe.

With these images, Tesla situates themselves in the zone of familiarity-objects typically associated with ‘regular’ cars are shown, establishing a sense of normalness amidst the glossy, high-tech electric magic.

Text analysis of top words used in captions also reveal words from the field of manufacturing, such as “gigafactory”, “production”, “hardware” and “testing”, to drive in the point that these cars were made just like you’d expect, with the same, safe lexicon of technical words consumers are accustomed to.

Tesla: A one-man brand?

When it comes to advertising, Elon Musk is arguably Tesla’s best asset, and metonym for the brand. Offering a combination of everyday human unpredictability along with a dash of technical knowledge and genius-speak, Musk has managed to build for Tesla a brand of charisma and cutting-edge innovation.

Our analysis has revealed that the company’s feeds serve as excellent billboards themselves. They consistently show Tesla as state-of-the-art, super cool and as high-tech as it gets, but without Musk’s madman touch.

Just as how Apple was tied so closely with Steve Jobs, the identity of Tesla is tied so closely with its founder. And we wonder, a few decades down the road in a Musk-less world- will this be enough?

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