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Nissan and Renault Debut Almost Identical Electric-Car Ads

Same Idea Was Used in a Spec Spot Last Year for Mitsubishi in Germany

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Rival electric-car makers -- Nissan's Leaf and Renault's ZE -- are airing strikingly similar new commercials based on the idea that electricity is better than gas, illustrated by vignettes from everyday life showing a range of familiar electrical appliances awkwardly powered by gas.

So far neither automaker's global agency ( TBWA Worldwide for Nissan and Publicis for Renault) is accusing the other of stealing its idea. That may have something to do with a spot created late last year in Germany for Mitsubishi's i-Miev electric car that imagined a world without electricity.

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The spot, shot by German production company Neue Super GbR, features vignettes from daily life, except the familiar electrical appliances shown are fueled by gas.

In the very roughly cut German spot, which was apparently created on spec and may never have aired on TV or been approved by Mitsubishi, an old lady makes a cake while fumes pour out of the mixer, and a couple's bathroom becomes filled with exhaust as they use their gas-powered toothbrush and hairdryer. It continues with a camcorder at a child's birthday party, a dentist wielding a huge and scary drill, and a toy dog all emitting fumes. The endline: "Let's go electric."

The idea neatly illustrates that electric power is already a large part of our daily lives, and emphasizes just how polluting the gas option is .

Fast forward to May 2011. Just days apart, Nissan and Renault broke ads for their own electric cars based on exactly the same idea as the i-Miev spot.

There are small varieties in the execution -- Renault has a razor, a hairdryer, a computer, a food mixer, a toy dog, and a snack dispenser.

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The voiceover for the international spot, by Publicis Conseil Paris, asks, "You are already switched to electricity for many things. So why not for traveling?"

Nissan's spot, by TBWA/Chiat/Day, includes an alarm clock, a toaster, a hairdryer, an MP3 player, a cellphone, a computer, a photocopier, a laptop, a water cooler and the scary dentist's drill.

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It ends with a dig at another competitor, General Motors' hybrid Volt model, which needs gas to go further than 50 miles or so.

The Nissan voice-over asks, "What if everything ran on gas? Then again, what if everything didn't?" The end line is "Innovation for the planet. Innovation for all."

Neither Nissan nor Renault could come up with an explanation for the amazing resemblance among all three commercials.

Publicis in a press release said its Renault ZE film first aired in Italy on May 18, and will break in France in June, then in Israel and Australia at the beginning of July, and the rest of the world in September. It also credits Stephen Norman, senior VP-global marketing for the Renault Group, as "advertising supervisor."

A Publicis spokeswoman said all calls were to be referred to Mr. Norman at Renault, but no one at Renault would comment.

Nissan and Renault formed an alliance in May 1999, and Renault currently has a 44.3% stake in Nissan, while Nissan owns 15% of Renault. Carlos Ghosn oversees both companies as CEO.

The car makers have a joint venture to coordinate global product development, financial policy and corporate strategy. Sales and marketing are kept separate, and the two car companies compete with each either -- except, apparently, in ad ideas.

TBWA said they were trying to get a statement from Nissan, which hadn't happened by press time.
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