Arnold Changes the Energy Conversation in New Spots for SolarCity

By Erik Oster 

Arnold Worldwide launched a new campaign for SolarCity, entitled “How Power Gets to You,” that takes a notably different approach to what we’re used to seeing for green energy companies.

A series of 30-second spots explains the way more traditional energy resources (coal, oil, natural gas) are created, sourced, transported and utilized with stop motion animation and a rapid-fire voiceover. The convoluted processes are highlighted by the fast-talking voiceover and busy animation before the final five seconds of the ad explain “how solar power gets to you,” showing the green energy source to be a simpler, more natural option. In “How Coal Power Gets to You” for example, the ad starts with a prehistoric dragonfly before shifting the narrative thousands of years to coal miners coughing in a dirty mine, where the coal is transferred to a processing plant, where it is then taken on a train to a power plant and, after a few more quickly-announced steps, finally makes its way to your home. Other spots highlight similarly complex processes for natural gas and oil, while pointing out redundancies and inefficiencies along the way (like oil being transported by a truck, which uses oil).

The attractive animation is mostly the result of hand-crafted cut-paper stop motion animation and the intricate process wasn’t exactly easy, but it fits the message. “We’re selling solar, so we liked the idea of telling the story using natural materials,” Sean McBride, Arnold executive creative director, explained to Adweek. “And we’re also telling the story of a fossil fuel process that’s very complicated—so, to us, using intricate detail made sense. We looked at a bunch of animation styles before landing on cut-paper stop motion. The coal mine explosion scene took about nine hours to shoot, even though it only lasts a few seconds. The characters and scenes were designed digitally before being carefully made, by hand, by dozens of artists. There are a few things we added in CG—stars, some soot—but the vast majority of what you see is made of paper.”

In addition to the unique visual style, the ads are notable for taking a different approach to selling solar, only implying the usual selling points of saving money and reducing pollution. In fact, viewers who missed the “SolarCity presents…” introduction would be excused for initially assuming the ads were selling the very energy sources they skewer (although it shouldn’t take long to dispel such a notion).


“I personally like the idea that a viewer might start out assuming these films are about one thing, only to think something very different 30 seconds later,” said McBride. We’ve all grown up thinking fossil fuels are the most normal thing in the world. But when you look at these processes with fresh eyes, you see that fossil fuels are anything but normal.”

“The folks who were or are going to be swayed by warnings about global warming have, frankly, already switched to solar,”he added. “This is about finding a new way to get people to reconsider a familiar issue; finding a new way in.”


Directors: Becho Lo Bianco, Mariano Bergara
CD: Antonio Balseiro

Agency: Arnold Worldwide
Jim Elliott, Global Chief Creative Officer
Sean McBride, EVP Exec Creative Director
Pete Valle, Sr. Copywriter
Sam Mullins, Assoc. Creative Director (Art)

Phoebe Cole, Broadcast Producer
Hillary O’Rourke, Assistant Producer
Lisa Mercier, VP Sr. Broadcast Business Affairs Manager
Kate Swanson, Broadcast Business Affairs Manager

Elliott Seaborn, Managing Director
Vallerie Bettini, SVP Marketing Director

Production Company: 1stAveMachine
EP/Partner: Sam Penfield
EP: Melinda Nugent
HOP: Melissa Mamane
Associate Producer: Christina Jang
Line Producer: Enrique Salcedo
Sr. Post Producer: Malu Rodriguez

Production Partner: Tronco
EP: Lautaro Brunatti
EP: Paula Moura
CanCan EP: Anuk Torre Obeid
Line Producer: Rocio Furmento
CanCan Production Coordinator: Daniela Iwaniuk
Art Director: Francisco Rossi
DOP: Juan Maglione
Post EP: Julieta Fernandez
Post Line Producer: Mechi Serrano
Post Coordinator: Florencia Bardas
Post Coordinator Assistant: Luciano Blanco
VFX Supervisor: Sergio Pickelny
3D Leads: Martin Lapettina & Alejandro Turano
AP: Amelie LeBlanc

Record & Mix: Soundtrack Boston
Producer: Hillary Rider
Audio Engineer: Mike Secher

Music: Egg Music
EP: Eric Fawcett
CD: John Hermanson

Client: SolarCity
Lyndon Rive, CEO
Peter Rive, CTO
Hayes Barnard, CRO
Jonathan Beamer, CMO
Chris Scott, VP Performance Marketing