Perspective: Celebrities reviewing cars

In 2010 we live in a world where celebrities are sometimes better recognised for activities they conduct outside of what made them famous and recognisable in the first place. Popular icons now appear on billboards, a myriad media adverts and even spin-off TV shows to promote themselves and what they have to offer. It now appears that reviewing cars is also one of the acceptable areas for celebrities to branch out into as they look to flex their public profile to the fullest possible extent.

Standard Reviews

Your standard car review ...

Some appear in car reviews due to a related contractual obligation, some for an agreed appearance fee and others simply because they love cars. What we at SkiddMark want to analyse though is which manufacturer is currently making best use of celebrity endorsement to promote their offerings.

Your standard car review isn’t an overly complicated matter to get your head round. It should comprise a clear and concise overview of the key points of the car, any interesting or stand out features, the pros and cons of the driving and ownership experience with some summary thoughts to neatly stitch the review back together at the end. And if you’re on a popular BBC motoring show, it may also involve a lot of sideways action and driving through the grass much to the aghast face of the Lotus delivery driver.

The problem however with the phrase “standard” is that it has connotations of and implies associated words like boring, mundane and predictable, terminology no socially-savvy manufacturer wants to be associated with. To shake things up, some have employed recognisable faces to front their internet videos, with some hitting the mark much better than others.

Racing Drivers

F1 drivers can steer a large number of viewers a manufacturer's way

The first port of call by many manufacturers is to employ current racing drivers to promote their brand, in order to take advantage of the “cool factor” association of speed and success that often goes hand in hand with racing drivers. Audi in this clip have engaged current Porsche Carrera Cup UK driver Tim Harvey to give a quick run through of its superb R8. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with the video per se, it’s an extremely dry video that doesn’t give you much of a feel for the experience of driving the R8 due to the poor film location and woefully poor soundtrack.

McLaren in their recent MP4-12C launch took advantage of their F1 team to use champions Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton to help promote their first supercar in over a decade. A more exciting video than the aforementioned Audi R8 clip, the higher quality production values and more scenic Goodwood circuit make for a slick production, though once you get past it being two of the world’s best drivers going for a sedate drive, the content is quite dull as the cars are hardly pushed to perform in an entertaining fashion.

Even less entertaining however is Ferrari’s 2009 clip featuring Michael Schumacher talking you through the Ferrari California. Ferrari missed a great opportunity here to make a fantastic clip featuring one of the most talented drivers of all time and instead served up a very dry video of Schumacher merely talking and stroking the California. Whilst he may be a fine racing driver, he is evidently not a fine public speaker.

Having said that, this clip alone has generated three quarters of a million views for Ferrari, underlining the effect of how a famous face can overcome even average content, and another factor for why Mercedes were so keen to sign the German for F1 2010 to appear in viral successes like this.

Turn It Up to Eleven

Brian Johnson in the excellent Rolls Royce Phantom feature around Sydney

So we’ve established that while popular for generating hits, racing drivers generally tend not to make for the most comfortable presenters when reviewing a car. In that case, perhaps it would be better to divert our attention towards those who perform charismatically in front thousands and cameras as a career.

Brian Johnson from rock band AC/DC recently took some time out from their Australian tour to take a Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe around Sydney, taking in the sights and chatting to his fans. Weighing in at a chunky ten minutes, it’s a long clip by internet standards but well worth watching even if you’re no rocker. Johnson is a likeable chap with a magnetic and genuine personality that shines through during the whole clip, with the car subtly blending into each scene rather than bluntly being thrust upon you like so many manufacturers do.

Furthermore, the clip has a story of returning to Sydney 30 years on woven into the video which makes it much more engaging than the “here is the car now look at it” approach, with Johnson offering amusing anecdotes of his experience and relationship with the Rolls Royce brand as he became gradually more successful over the years. This combination of an interesting character, a glamorous location and a strong story for the review appears to be the winning formula brands should be trying to achieve, so hats off to Rolls Royce for this one.

Fellow musician Jay Kay of Jamiroquai fame also shot a similar video to Johnson’s, this time for Audi and their Q5. This clip is a much better offering from Audi, once again because of the energetic character and wealth of anecdotes he’s able to share with the viewer. Whilst this clip has much more of an advert feel than the Phantom clip, the features of the car are explained in a fun and enjoyable way rather than offered as a cold list of bullet points like in many manufacturers’ clips.

Cross Promotions

British skier Chemmy Alcott talks you through the Range Rover Sport

Sometimes effective media takes place when directors draw on a variety of areas strongest values to make one strong consolidated package.

A good example of this can be found in Range Rover’s series of clips with British downhill skier, Chemmy Alcott. Rather than relying on the strength of a super car to make viewers gawp over or an A-list celebrity to drag eyeballs in, Range Rover have utilised one of their sponsored athletes to show off the capabilities of their Range Rover Sport in the context of where Alcott will use it on a day to day basis. Alcott’s cheeky nature and playful way of running through her five favourite parts of the car effectively highlight the strengths of one of the UK’s favourite 4x4s.

Showing your car in use in day to day conditions rather than hammering up and down a runway is a much better way for manufacturers to interact with their customers and fans, so well done to Range Rover for thinking a little harder than its competitors when it comes to video promotion.

Final Thoughts

Renault smartly used their 2009 Clio Cup champion Phil Glew to talk about the road going Clio RS 200

It’s apparent that as we transition from traditional media platforms and into other forms of media, some manufacturers are much more on the ball for creating fun and interesting videos that will stimulate buzz and interest in their cars and products.

As shown by the earlier California clip with Schumacher, celebrity endorsement can allow lazy concepts to flourish thanks to the pull of the popular personality, though a combination of a likeable character, a strong brand and story can bring something truly engaging to both manufacturers and its audience. This Panamera video with Jay Leno shows that even comedians can’t make a video interesting if the premise is a dull one.

The very best videos don’t feel like adverts, moreover they’re experiences you’re invited to become a part of for those brief few minutes that then whets your appetite to learn more about the brand and vehicle you’ve been given a sample of. We’re not saying you have to be an A-list rockstar or that you require a huge budget as shown in this clip as 2009 Clio Champion Phil Glew crucifies a Clio Renaultsport 200 from cold to promote Renault’s little hot hatch.

What we are saying however is that celebrity based content should make relevant use of the guest presenter in a way that’s likely to make the viewer nudge their friend and say, “hey, you should really check this out.” If it doesn’t, how else is the message of these brands meant to spread?

Be sure to check out more car reviews and other videos on our SkiddPlayer.