Public relations really is an art, and I have to hand it to Xcel Energy for creating a very nice looking commercial that — on the surface — seems to be a big luv hug to solar power! Yay! And it is — for utility scale solar. At the same time, the video subtly poo-poos little home solar, implying that it’s an “unfair and unequal” way to go solar.
If you’re a solar installer, I think your residential solar customers and prospects in Xcel’s territories may be interested in what this commercial is subtly saying about residential solar, so as a solar PR lesson, let’s break down the art of creating a commercial that implies that residential solar is the wrong way to go solar.
First, here’s the video. Below that, the deconstruction.
Always Keep the Goal In Mind
When PR people create any commercial, whether it’s for or against home solar, they always have to keep the goal in mind. What do we want to accomplish?
In this case, I suspect that Xcel is trying to convince its various state public utility commissions that utility scale solar is more "fair and equal" than expanding or supporting more residential solar. To make their case, they need public support on a very important but wonky energy issue about home solar customers not paying their fair share for maintaining the grid.
Rather than directly go into this complicated issue, this commercial’s goal seems to be to convince the public that only big utility solar is the “right” “fair” and “equal” way to develop solar power. Though it doesn't directly say it, the message also subtly implies that home solar is not right, fair, or equal.
Now let’s break down how Xcel’s PR machine presents this message.
The Voice and the Music
The voice over artist is very important in this type of commercial. It represents the company, so you have to trust that voice. Here, I’m guessing they wanted to speak to the people at home who pay the utility bills--often women.
As a result, Xcel chose a young, down-to-earth, spunky, woman’s voice, perhaps representing a soccer mom. Listen to this voice. Isn't that the person you imagine on Xcel's board of directors speaking to the public? No? Really? Shocking. Well, that's PR.
The background music choice can also subtly influence the viewer. Here, they chose an upbeat tune that signifies progress and has hints of technology and optimism. There’s nothing dangerous or ominous about it. They don't want to frighten you into seeing things in their big solar way. Rather, the music choice is meant to inspire the viewer to feel upbeat and receptive to Xcel being a positive leader for (large scale) solar.
Repetition with Graphics
Marketers know that repeating a message is critical to getting an audience to remember—and hopefully act on—the message. In fact, there's a theory that one needs to repeat a message at least 9 times before someone truly takes note of your ad.
I have no idea how many times Excel blasted this video on air and cable, but you’ll notice that in addition to this video's pretty cartoon world of wind mills and large-scale solar images, textual graphics reinforce key messaging. Among the key words viewers see as well as hear:
These key phrases reinforce the ad's point that large scale solar is economical and the “right way” to do solar. (Just as a side note, I do support utility scale solar, but I would never call it "right," as if distributed generation and all other solar were "wrong." So black and white, Xcel, but again, that's PR!)
Breaking Down the Script
Now I’m going to deconstruct the commercial’s script. The first part in bold will be the actual text. Below that, italics will be my personal interpretation, and includes the subtext of Xcel’s goal for finding public support for its vision of a big utility solar world being "right."
“At Xcel Energy, we believe in solar energy in a big way—in the right way. Solar energy is clean, it’s renewable, and it’s a big part of Xcel Energy’s clean energy future.”
At Xcel Energy, we're not against solar. Mother Earth, forbid! We like solar, but we only like it when it's utility scale. That's the future we'd like to see, a future where utilities control and sell solar energy, not little solar homeowners.
“The fact is that the Excel energy solar portfolio already includes enough power to support nearly 60,000 homes.”
Yes, it’s true. Xcel Energy’s large-scale solar farms power lots of homes. We’re mentioning this and showing you lots of homes in this graphic to make you see that we power homes with big solar installations. We love solar...when it's controlled by us! …Of course, if you look closely, we’re not showing you any solar homes. That might encourage you to get your own solar system, and we don’t want that. We just want you to see that we support solar…controlled by us. Cool, huh?
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