WWF Canada’s David Miller takes viewers on a ride

Web series borrows from Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee"

A chef, a comedian and a TV personality get into an electric car with the former mayor of Toronto…

It’s not the set-up for an elaborate joke, but the basis of a new marketing campaign created by Toronto agency Public for WWF Canada.

Called First Dates with David Miller, each of the approximately three-minute videos features WWF Canada president and CEO David Miller taking people, including TV host Jessi Cruickshank, comedian Mark McKinney and celebrity chef Susur Lee, on a “first date” in a BMW i3 electric vehicle.

The format bears a strong resemblance to the Jerry Seinfeld web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, showing Miller interacting with his “date” in the electric car as they drive to various “green” destinations in Toronto, including the Leslie Street Spit, the wind turbine at Exhibition Place and the MaRS centre.

“We plainly and liberally borrowed from that idea,” said Miller. “We wanted to communicate with people about [EVs] in a way that is interesting, fun and a little bit different, because EVs aren’t just a response to an environmental crisis, they’re also interesting, fun and a little bit different.”

Raising awareness of electric vehicles – or EVs – has become a key mandate for WWF Canada, since the transportation sector is responsible for 28% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

According to a recent report from WWF Canada, 42% of Canadians feel EVs are a viable alternative to standard automobiles, up sharply from 28% in 2012. Sales of EVs have also increased 80%, with five new models – including the i3 – bringing the total number of EVs in the market to 14.

However, WWF Canada said there is still room for improvement by making pricing more competitive, bolstering charging infrastructure (Canada currently has only 1,850 public charging points, compared with 5,330 in California and nearly 6,000 in Norway) and increasing availability.

Public co-founder and CEO Phillip Haid said the branded content approach was selected because it offered the chance to reach a broader audience interested in sustainable living.

He said using the car as a backdrop for the campaign, as opposed to adopting a “here’s what you need to know about electric vehicles” approach, would resonate better with the target audience.

The three videos have garnered a combined 18,000 views on WWF Canada’s YouTube page since their Nov. 4 debut, with Haid describing it as more of a “slow build” initiative that will grow its audience over time. He said the platform also lends itself to additional chapters.

“Everyone feels very positive about the results, because we see it as an ongoing opportunity to engage people in a piece of content that won’t just live in the two or three weeks [after] it’s launched.”

The campaign has already spawned a spin-off, with NGO Sustainable Waterloo Region introducing a program called My Date with an Electric Vehicle; a student club at Queen’s University also used the videos in a panel discussion about electric cars.

Miller joined WWF Canada in September 2013 and has taken an active interest in ensuring its marketing stands out in a cluttered environment.

“I wanted all of our messaging and marketing communications to be interesting to people, relevant and to be a little bit edgy and different,” he said. “We’re probably not yet where I want to be, but we’re experimenting.

“Not all of these things have to work; we prefer they all work, but if they don’t work, at least we tried.”

Miller said one of the lessons he learned from 20 years in municipal politics is that storytelling is the best way to communicate an idea, particularly when trying to articulate something complex.

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