It looks like one car maker has figured out an intriguing way to market its product to a city audience: Just don’t show it at all. In fact, try to sell it by appealing to the innate desire for the very qualities your product squeezes out of city neighborhoods.
That’s what Nissan has done with its New York City promotion for the Leaf, an electric car slated for mass production later this year. Nissan marketing teams hit the streets earlier this week with a faux Park(ing) Day concept. Instead of filling curbside space with sod and benches, they put out some bucket seats and signs pointing to journey-to-zero.com, a flash site that I found too irritating to navigate.
As far as I can tell, this attempt to sell cars by co-opting one of the signature awareness-building strategies of the livable streets movement does not display any actual cars, or even show the image of a Nissan Leaf. It’s a car-free PR campaign for cars.
(Obligatory disclaimers: Replacing internal combustion with electric
batteries is great. But the zero emissions hype is way overblown, the
city-destroying space-hogging problem doesn’t disappear with the
fossil-fuel powered engines, and electric cars can be driven just as
recklessly as conventional cars.)
Apparently, the promoters got a few people to sit in these things when they rolled them out on Wednesday. But really, they need to absorb a few lessons from the Park(ing) Day masters. The sitting arrangement inside a car is inherently anti-social. Staring at a headrest and the back of someone’s scalp just doesn’t translate to an urban public space.
Maybe that’s why the people organizing this campaign also felt compelled to hire some folks to hand out flowers. You need a little public space programming to give people a reason to stop and memorize the journey-to-zero URL.
If you want to see one of these set-ups for yourself, the Nissan promoters will be putting out their bucket seats again all day tomorrow. They have 20 spots reserved. I don’t have the exact locations but I’m told there will be four each at Union Square, the Bowery, SoHo, and Tribeca. No word yet on how much the city got paid for all this highly desirable curbside real estate.
So I think it’s time to coin a phrase. What’s the livable streets equivalent of greenwashing?