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Kitty Hawk dreams big with a “flying car”

Kitty Hawk’s new product launch on April 24 for the Kitty Hawk Flyer, “a new, all-electric aircraft," certainly garnered its fair share of press attention: “No Longer a Dream: Silicon Valley Takes on the Flying Car” wrote the New York Times. “Google co-founder’s “flying car” makes it debut” said CNNMoney. “Watch the First Video of the New Flying Car from Google Co-founder” suggested Newsweek. 

Even though most journalists noted that the personal flying machine looked more like a jet ski than a car, or even “like something Luke Skywalker would have build out of spare parts,” as the New York Times put it, one thing was unthinkable: not calling it a flying car.

Interestingly, however, Kitty Hawk’s website never uses the word “car.”

The machine is described as an “all-electric aircraft” that’s on a mission to “make the dream of personal flight a reality.” Elsewhere, the terminology “quadcopter-inspired aircraft” is used. To be clear, this is a small flying machine that can land vertically on water. Not exactly a car.

So why the journalistic insistence? Why such devotion to the words “flying car?”

Here we see a phenomenon that we might well apply to our own work: a dream that’s so large, so encompassing, that it supersedes the details of the moment. Literally speaking, people are more interested in progress towards a flying car than they are in hearing about a new and innovative Quadcopter.

From Jules Vern to the Jetsons, our minds are already soaring above the traffic, at one with the sky. Such a powerful dream leapfrogs over the steps in the literal journey towards its creation. It imbues each individual moment with the promise and possibility of the goal.

The advantage of this is obvious: a Quadcopter is being hailed with the excitement usually reserved for something more innovative. It’s given a hero-status that it might not on the surface seem to warrant. We’re all clicking on the website, eager to learn more, excited by the company’s progress, anxious to see what’s next.

The danger? Overpromising and under delivering on a dream – at least, for now.  “Kitty Hawk’s Flying Car isn’t the car you were promised” noted and as for GeekWire? “Flying car? … Looks more like a flying raft.”

Therein is the risk in not giving people the name, the identifier, that helps you tell your story. And yet, we can still learn something from the press storm that Kitty Hawk generated, implying, not literally saying, the magic words “flying” and “car.”

How can we use this in our communications?

  1. Recognize the power of a dream to inspire audiences
  2. Show that you stand for something bigger, so that progress is seen as directional and purposeful
  3. Pull the move now known as The Quadcopter: let other people draw on the dream, and call it a flying car, while you stick to the literal truth on your own website!


Senior Verbal Identity Consultant