Solar, Advertising and a Fake Oil Tycoon

The biggest story from the first day of Intersolar in San Francisco yesterday was the appearance of Larry Hagman, who played a Texas oilman on an old soap opera “Dallas,” at a SolarWorld press event (see the video). That is, if you judge by the ranking and number of stories on Google News last night. Almost all other Intersolar-related news came in the form of press releases.

While SolarWorld’s choice for its new spokesman has spawned this post on Greentech Media poking fun of it all, it does make you wonder whether branding campaigns are worth the investments for solar panel makers. Yingli Green Energy has gotten a lot of press for its sponsorship of the most recent World Cup, where you couldn’t miss the Chinese solar panel maker’s name when you watched the games. Sharp and SunPower also have launched marketing campaigns.

I’m interested to see whether these advertising efforts work. Who are the targeted audiences? When you put ads in sporting events, are you targeting mostly men, and are men more likely to be making purchasing decisions for solar energy?

I caught up with Matt Ziskin at SunWize, a distributor and installer of solar electric equipment this morning, and I asked him whether consumers have any brand awareness. He said home and business owners don’t ask for certain brands of solar panels and rely on recommendations from their installers. This is probably not surprising given that solar energy is starting to become vogue in the United States only in the last few years. Ziskin noted that, in the residential market, men are typically the ones to make the first calls to SunWize to discuss buying a solar energy system. But women typically join the men in discussing the purchases when SunWize employees make the sales calls.

By the way, here is a good story in PV Magazine’s website from my fellow solar writer, Jennifer Kho, who interviewed several companies at Intersolar yesterday and got some scoops.

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