11
Feb
11

The Home Page Opportunity (4)

[February 6, 2011] 

When a category-changing product appears on the market, it’s only natural to expect its marketing materials to echo the excitement it creates. In a previous post, I discussed this issue in terms of the Apple iPad, whose messaging strategy continues to be a thoughtless mishmash of narcissism and stale leftovers from the ’90s. In the case of the Nissan Leaf, however, innovative product technology finds an agreeable parallel in a Web presence utterly idiomatic to the rapidly-evolving language of digital space.

Brimming with life from the moment it zooms into view, the site greets you with a genial dynamism, showing the car in a revolving 360° sweep, before settling down into a resting state that rewards interaction with reaction. Click through “Charging,” for example, and see the stylized fireworks, as site elements slam and jam into place, then stand ready for your next move. “Stand,” that is, in the same sense that a Taekwando master stands ready to counter your best shot.

Response time is fast, even with home DSL service and makes exploring the site feel like play. And while I usually recommend against sound effects, the vibraphone-like tones that ring out quietly from time to time make their own kind of understated logic.

Tempting…
Now, having just given up my last car for all kinds of reasons—not the least being I live in Manhattan—I’m not even in the market for a motor vehicle of any kind. And yet, the spirit the site exudes is so infectious, I’m already cobbling together an excuse to buy a Leaf for my non-existent garage. Crackling with energy, the over-arching message couldn’t be clearer.

The Leaf’s brand promise is a car with power, responsiveness and good-natured fun—that by the way, is socially responsible. And it conveys that message without the hollow pretensions so commonly foisted on a new product launch by members of the Marketing Anxiety Corps. In the absence of on-the-nose headline signage (“Looking for an Alternative Energy Car that Really Zooms? Look No Further!”), the site itself is a perfect metaphor for that brand promise.

Fluent in Digitalese.
Dig deeper in the site and that message never flags. On the small scale, there’s the side-scrolling main nav that orients itself to your mouse. At a larger level, there’s the colorful array of flash animation the site uses to elucidate even the nerdiest details:

• The New Exhaust
• The New Vroom
• The New Torque

…all of which deftly branch off from the flash-intro headline “Say hello to the new car.”

Yet for all that this site conveys, the interface is as intuitive as any I’ve seen. And from the singularly fussy POV of a copywriter, the obligatory Facebook connection blessedly avoids saying “Follow us on Facebook,” at least until you hit the footer.

How does it get away with that? By being so fluent in every other in-the-moment digital trend, you just know. Digital native or not, you know there’s a Facebook connection front and center on the home page. If it takes you more than 10 seconds to find it, you’re probably still driving a 1969 emerald-green Oldsmobile.

Can’t get a charge out of it.
In contrast, the home page opportunity for Chevy Volt was clearly missed.

“2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year” says the self-congratulatory subhead lying just under “It’s More Car Than Electric.” And less electric, I gather from this site, than a blind date with a three-toed sloth.

“The future is here and America is back in the game,” reads the next big, eye-catching phrase. So here we are, neck and neck with “the fold” and the only things on this Web site’s mind are Motor Trend magazine and America.

While the Nissan Leaf site was about me and what I could get from an innovative marvel, Chevy Volt’s Web presence doesn’t even seem to be about the Chevy Volt. In its desperate grab for external validation, this messaging strategy leaves me stranded with the bitter taste of Nyah-nyah-told-ya-so defensiveness.

Once the proclaiming is done, you can find a more or less attractive array of manually operated slides. Stripped of its creaky marketing envelope, the Volt looks as if, maybe, it might offer a serious alternative to the combustion engine status quo. Trouble is, by the time I reach that conclusion, I’m more than halfway down the home page, and more than three-quarters of the way to my Nissan dealer.

[Since this post, Nissan has replaced the site discussed here with a site that refers to this revolutionary car as “A little different.” Meanwhile, the new site is little different from the status quo for the auto industry—or the Ikea catalog.]

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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY

m.laporta@verizon.net
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