Technique 2 minutes, 26 second read Mark Johnson, Editor, Just.Marketing
With a name that sounds like a fragrance and with a mystique to match, Elon Musk is our only human to be nominated for The Innovation 50. But can an individual be a brand?
Well, the CEO and chairman of electric car maker Tesla and owner of rocket producer SpaceX has been described by Marc Allenby, Creative Director at Harvard, as “probably the best creative marketer in the world.”
Whether you agree or not, let’s look at the evidence.
The launch pad
He grew up in South Africa before emigrating to Canada aged 17 then studying at a US university. Now almost 50 years old, SpaceX, his rocket company, is valued at almost US$36 billion. His personal net worth is estimated at almost US$88 billion. He is also the lead engineer and product designer for Tesla as well as being the lead designer for SpaceX. And he is, lest we forget, also the man who co-founded and sold PayPal.
His business genius is therefore unquestioned. But what about his marketing skills?
The man who sells us the future
With his electric car and rocket company, Musk is working round the clock to revolutionize transport here on Earth and up there in space. Therefore, much of his work requires him to market the future to us. But has he succeeded?
Perhaps his best-known brain wave for doing this was in 2018 when Musk’s own personal electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster, was launched into space on the Falcon Heavy test flight (see main image). The car and rocket became an artificial satellite of the Sun.
In a stroke of marketing genius, the car carried a dummy in a spacesuit in the driver’s seat (named ‘Starman’, after the Bowie song) and the whole thing was filmed and streamed live back to us on Earth.
Marc says, “He has the balls to film stuff live and put it on the net and even if it’s a disaster, he comes back and does it again. In that way, he’s fearless. But it’s incredible that someone can be so fearless.”
Has it worked? Well, in the UK’s nascent and still comparatively tiny electric car market, and despite covid, in April this year the Tesla Model 3 became the UK’s best-selling car.
Where marketing and art converge
To some commentators, ‘Starman’ went beyond marketing; it was a work of art.
Marc continues, “Elon Musk’s truly fascinating, so untraditional, and what he seems to always be doing is marketing.
"How many people can put a rocket into space with a dummy in a car with a Bowie soundtrack as a marketing idea for selling cars? You can’t get any bigger than that."
"It was an iconic moment. And it wasn’t just a creative idea but a global news item. Everything he does creates content – he just markets the future in such a smart way.”
We have to agree – Elon Musk deserves his place in The Innovation 50.