Fisker Automotive Turns to Advertising in Wake of PR Woes

Ads in WSJ Declare: 'It's Not Easy Being Innovative'

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WSJ Fisker Karma ad

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Luxury car brand Fisker bought considerable real estate in Friday's Wall Street Journal to advertise Karma, its $100,000 hybrid plug-in sports sedan. The automaker said the ads are an attempt to tell its story, rather than a defensive response to a series of public-relations woes since its introduction -- from recalls and embarrassing reviews to political criticism.

The print-only buy is actually a series of four quarter-page ads followed by a full-page one, created by eMaxx Partners and Minneapolis agency Mono, both of which began working with Fisker in recent months. Tim Blett, founder of eMaxx called the ads a "prelude" and a "sneak peek of the brand voice" to a larger global marketing campaign launching late-summer that will include a mix of media, but the focus will not be on TV.

"History will tell you that the new path is often the most difficult. Discovery, far more work than settling. But history will also tell you there are always a few who simply don't care," the full-page ad said. "They don't care that pushing forward is 4,000 times harder than being pulled along," it continued.

The ad copy continues: "Because the doubters aren't the builders. The critics are never the creators. And the skeptics, rarely the inventors. ... When we set out to redefine and reshape how the world thinks about cars, we knew it wouldn't be easy. And despite our many firsts, accomplishments and accolades, it hasn't been. But that 's alright. Building the future never is ."

The Fisker Karma
The Fisker Karma

Michael Hart, co-founder at Mono, said that although the car has been out since December, the Wall Street Journal ads are a way to introduce the car to its target audience. Mr. Hart said that the technology Fisker uses is innovative and "an amazing achievement." The technology makes Karma essentially an electric car with a range extender--it can drive a limited number of miles on electric, then the driver can switch to the gas engine.

The company has had its share of criticism. Fisker, founded in 2007 by namesake auto man Henrik Fisker, has issued a couple of recalls: 240 Karmas were recalled due to faulty batteries late last year and another 19 were recalled earlier this month because of hose clamps that might leak coolant onto the battery -- basically, a fire hazard. The company has said that the issue came from defective parts from its suppliers, but acknowledges that it was the Fisker brand at the end of the day.

Fisker also faced some PR headaches when the demo model Consumer Reports was driving broke down in what the magazine called "the first time in memory that we have had a car that is undriveable before it has finished our check-in process." The Consumer Reports piece prompted a number of complaints from other Fisker drivers. On the other hand, Motor Trend gave the car a mostly positive review, though it did mention a number of hiccups in the preproduction car.

Fisker and the Obama administration have been criticized for a $529 million governmental loan from the Department of Energy's 2009 Advanced Technologies Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program to Fisker. (Tesla, another luxury carmaker, was also granted a loan.) The loan brought up comparisons to the ill-fated Solyndra, a solar company that was granted a half-billion dollar loan by the Department of Energy in 2009, but ultimately shuttered after bankruptcy.

Roger Ormisher, director of global PR for Fisker, said that the ads are not a reaction to the bad PR, but more of a way for the company to tell the story of its journey, particularly that it's difficult to bring new technology to market. "The ads are about celebrating the achievement of bringing a new car company to market during one of the worst economic downturns ever," while acknowledging that it isn't easy, he said. He added that "there are always critics and skeptics of any new project, especially one that 's been in the political spotlight. But this is underlining what we achieved."

Karma, which is the only Fisker car on the market (although the Atlantic was announced earlier this year and is expected to come out in the next couple years), has sold 1,000 units in the first quarter, tallying $100 million in sales.

As for the relationship between Mono and eMaxx, Mr. Blett described eMaxx, which began working with Fisker in February, as a sort of general contractor that works directly with clients to develop marketing strategy and help the carmaker choose agencies to suit its needs. Mono, which started working with the brand in May, is essentially the lead creative agency, but more agency relationships are expected to be forged this year.

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