This week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced plans to double the solar power capacity on the Garden State's grid - doubling down on the state's national lead in new solar installations for 2012 - which inspired San Jose Mercury News energy reporter Dana Hull to post this message to Twitter: "Imagining the great ad campaign for solar in NJ: Springsteen, Gandolfini." Which in turn inspired two things in me. First, a brief daydream about Tony Soprano talking up "this thing of ours" as Paulie Walnuts hussled a crew up a ladder to install solar panels while the Boss howled, "Born in the USA!" Second, a sort of open question: How do solar companies pitch themselves, anyway? I can't remember ever seeing a TV commercial for solar panels, but they had to be out there in the YouTube wilds, didn't they?
I soon discovered that there actually isn't much in the way of slick solar advertising. And what TV spots there are make for some curious viewing. Here are the seven strangest, slickest and most curious.
1. Garden State Solar
My first surprise: someone's already talking up solar power in Jersey. Unfortunately, some sort of state ordinance apparently obliges solar companies to hire ad agencies staffed exclusively by people who have been in comas since the Carter presidency to produce their ads. Here's a 2011 ad from Middleton, N.J., taking us back to the 1980s future.
2. Solon "HAIL" ad
Beaming in from the other side of the Atlantic - and from another, much more sophisticated universe, in terms of production values - here's a big-budget two-minute spot from Germany's Solon Energy. They spent so much on the filming, though, they must've run out of cash to fund a focus group, which would've surely told them that the best way to convince people of the merits of solar power might not be to lay ruin to their city in a biblical bombardment of batteries.
3. SolarCity - "Turn Sunshine Into Cash"
I had high hopes for this ad, which comes to us from the Bay Area's top solar installer. And the first 15 seconds are as sharp and powerful as any you'll find in cleantech, as rows of coal trucks hurry in reverse back to their mines and smoke hussles back down smokestacks. Alas, SolarCity seems to have handed the second half of the spot over to the same pack of defrosted Carter-era ad men who did Garden State Solar's work. Great shots of those guys walking past a truck and then waving cheerily as they drive somewhere for some undisclosed reason. Really closes the proceedings on a high note.
4. SolarWorld - "It Starts At Home"
All in all, this is probably the strongest ad of the bunch in terms of focused messaging and stylish presentation. It does suffer a bit from PowerPoint disease, though - too much data in too many infographics that zip past far too quick to process - and it closes with somewhat generic livin'-the-good-suburban-life images that could be advertising anything from low-fat food to life insurance. Has no one in the solar industry ever heard of a climax?
5. Queensland government's Johnny Nash ad
Sunny Australia's been a world leader in solar research since NASA first installed panels at remote outback spacecraft tracking stations in the 1950s, but it's been a laggard in actual PV installations, ranking behind such noted sun destinations as Belgium and the Czech Republic in actual solar generating capacity. For whatever reason, though, Australian governments love to make pro-solar ads. Here's one that encapsulates all the generic arguments, all to the all-too-familiar strains of Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now."
6. Indian solar ad
The Indian government is in the midst of an ambitious push into the front ranks of the global solar market, and apparently the state government of Bengal (I think) is touting solar panels as lifestyle accessories for the emerging middle class. My Bengali's not what it could be, but if I follow the story line correctly, the happy family in this ad trades their ailing matriarch for a sizeable solar array - which, I have to admit, is probably the more prudent choice, fiscally speaking.
7. Vintage '80s solar ad
I don't know who this Dale Robertson is, but it seems likely he was one of the less celebrated Ewing cousins on the hit 1980s drama "Dallas." Disgruntled at being cut out of the family's fictional oil fortune, he appears to have wandered off into the Texas countryside to deliver rambling monologues about solar power. "Can't think of anything . . . more . . . reasonable than that."
Embedding's blocked for this one, so click here to learn how our solar future looked from the Texas ranchlands of the 1980s.
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