In between the punting, tackling, and rare scoring at this year’s Super Bowl, companies shelled out $5 million or more per ad to networks and the NFL to promote something that was often vague. But there were a couple of ads I’d like to comment on as to their relevance to the utility industry.

Alexa takes control of the energy grid

This ad about Amazon Alexa’s connected-home “fails” references “the incident,” which depicts Alexa on board a spaceship (presumably the International Space Station) fooling around with the power grid, to great effect. In the same ad, Harrison Ford engages in a serious argument with his nemesis, a tiny Alexa-loving dog. For a guy like Ford—who has played the hero against evil forces such as Darth Vader, the German army, and Russian terrorists—to be outwitted by a dog is really brilliant.

Amazon Alexa Super Bowl commercial

What does this ad have to do with utilities? Successful companies such as Amazon have many false starts and failures before they find product winners. And when they have a winner, they keep improving it through user testing, using complaints as a platform to find new solutions and adapting to evolving opportunities. Design-thinking principles help guide Amazon through rapid prototyping with users to quickly discover elements that don’t resonate and to try out new concepts that might make customers’ lives better and easier. Utilities should do the same.

Amazon and its ad agency felt that the ubiquity and importance of electricity would be an immense, if implausible, punch line to its story. While not directly referencing 2001: A Space Odyssey, Amazon uses the image of Alexa on board the spaceship circling Earth to represent the immense power of artificial intelligence and the problems that could befall the smart grid as we move into the future. Funny, yes, but also a little bit scary.

Audi makes a far-flung commitment to EVs

The second ad, from Audi, is about … actually, just watch it. Anything I’d say would be a spoiler.

Audi e-tron GT Super Bowl commercial

The ad starts out in a Field of Dreams moment where we don’t know what’s real or not, but the bright lights allow us to guess that this might be a “life passing before you” moment. Then, we jump to reality in a bland Office Space environment where the poor fellow awakens from his blissful and exciting moment behind the wheel of the sleek Audi e-tron GT electric vehicle (EV) to discover his life has just been saved by a coworker. Bummer. Now he has to resume his humdrum life where he doesn’t get to drive an Audi e-tron.

But then, how does Audi follow up with this expensive moment of opportunity? It tells us that one-third of its cars will be EVs by the year 2025. Not a typo. By 2025. That tells 100 million people that EVs are nowhere near ready for prime time—a terrible message when so many real models are coming into the market today. I was disappointed there was no call to action, knowing that Audi is currently accepting orders for its EV lineup.

How can utilities play a bigger role in EV adoption?

While I have your attention regarding EVs, please join us for our utility-only web conference Utilities’ Role in EV Adoption on February 21, 2019 (available to E Source utility members). You’ll hear our ideas on how utilities can encourage the EV market to evolve more rapidly than Audi suggests, and how you can improve your brand, lower rates, and earn more money with this once-in-a-generation technological opportunity.

Did you have any thoughts on this year’s Super Bowl ads in regard to energy efficiency or utilities? Did any other ads stand out to you as relevant to the industry? Let us know in the comments below.

Contributing Authors

Chief Instigation Agent

Bill LeBlanc draws on his experience in the energy industry to provide insight into where the industry is going and help create E Source...