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The Spotlight on the new Top Gear

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Here we ask and try to answer the questions that really matter – did the marketing activity set it up for a fall and does the new Top Gear really cater for an automotive audience?

As automotive marketing specialists, we weren’t short of the odd petrol head being available to comment

JJ’s view

Kieren’s view

Whether you liked the episode or not, you can’t argue with the viewing figures with nearly 4.5 million viewers sitting down to watch the show – clearly there are a lot of people who want to engage with the BBC Top Gear brand. I rate Chris Evans as a very knowledgeable car nut and somebody who has a fantastic collection of cars in his own right, and thought there were some promising moments with Matt Le Blanc too. Yes, it followed the previous format in many (thinly veiled) ways but given time I think the new team can make a decent fist of it.

Besides, I remember the very first series of May, Hammond and Clarkson and it wasn’t much to write home about – it took a while for the format and presenters to gel into a formidable tour de force. Given time, I think Evans and co can deliver viewing that makes for a highly entertaining show that celebrates so much of what makes motoring and cars great.

Fergus’ view

Whether you loved or loathed the new Top Gear (personally I liked Top Gear but preferred Extra Gear), the real star of the show was the consumer watching at home. They demonstrated the true power of multi-media during Sunday’s curtain-raiser for the new series.

Stats from Auto Trader show a massive surge in searches and ad views for the Ariel Nomad during the show, peaking at 110 per minute an increase of 1200%! Auto Trader stats also reveal massive search increases for brands when their ads air on TV.

Not only must brands ensure an outstanding digital presence across all devices, they should also consider what other searches consumers are going to be carrying out during TV spots, and ensure a presence across as many sites as possible. This is where a solid content and SEO strategy can play a part, and drive a brand presence across partner sites as well as the brand’s own site.

Fi’s view

Top Gear had grown into an entertainment programme about cars first and foremost rather than a show to educate you about the best car for your money and the new series does continue along that theme. However, the previous incarnation was due for an overhaul, and this was the perfect opportunity for the BBC to revamp and refresh.

While the format has remained largely unchanged, the introduction of German racer Sabine Schmitz (the Queen of the Nürburgring), can only be viewed as a positive along with Chris Harris (well known to the petrol heads amongst us, sadly he only appeared on the BBC online ‘Extra Gear’). Unfortunately, the original spirit of the show has now gone, the once beloved Top Gear now looks tired and too try hard!

It will be interesting to see how the viewing figures pan out over the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the Clarkson, May and Hammond ‘Grand Tour’ is in production, launching in the Autumn …

Andi’s view

The new series of Top Gear continues the formula which transcends your typical petrol head, positioning itself as an entertainment programme and not just a car show. The new line-up of a slightly giddy Chris Evans and oh so cool Matt LeBlanc only serves to enhance the position thrust forward by the previous merry band of Clarkson, Hammond and May, and will help bring new viewers in – a commercial marketer’s potential dream. I say ‘potential’ because let’s review those viewing figures in a few weeks’ time after the novelty of a new crew has worn off.

From an automotive audience appeal, it doesn’t completely alienate the purists out there though. The addition of Extra Gear shows real promise with some great behind the scenes content, presented in a natural and engaging way by the supporting cast (they may be too good – watch out Evans). It brings detailed insight for the more informed or enthused out there, avoiding the unfortunate dumbing down approach that can inflict programmes trying to reach a mass audience.

From an industry point of view, Top Gear will always have that appeal and intrigue to bring the viewers in and give a good flavour of the current state of affairs in the market. However, there is clearly room for a few players in the market and that will be music to the ears of the aforementioned trio and Amazon executives alike!

Tom’s view

We all know that Top Gear returned on Sunday and we all know that some people were disappointed. But that was inevitable. Far more interesting was the announcement of a topless LaFerrari – revealed to the 4.4m viewers through the medium of guest, and Ferrari fanboy Gordon Ramsay, who it turns out has one on order. A rogue announcement by a loose-tongued customer? Or a carefully staged reveal planned by Ferrari’s PR team? You decide. But the latter seems far more plausible… It’ll be interesting to see whether other manufacturers follow suit.

Jai’s view

Social media has played a key role in Top Gear’s rebirth. Twitter can often be brutal, which in this case it was and still is. The #BigStig stunt let us see what angle was taken for marketing on social media – take an already loved character, make a huge model and pop him outside of the BBC building. Some people liked it, some people really hated it, which was fuelled by the interesting timing of the announcement of the BBC’s recipe archiving in a bid to cut costs. Whether it was good or bad, it still got people talking about it.


Either way, both shows provide us consumers with a direct injection of speed, cars and automotive information. Which, ultimately, is why we watch them.

Michael’s view

There was inevitably a big build up to the “new” Top Gear – much of it focussing on Chris Evans, including plenty of negative stories in the media. Many people don’t like change. And quite a few people don’t like Evans very much either.

Everyone watched it with Clarkson and co at the back of their minds and, surprise, surprise, viewers ended up comparing the hosts to the previous ones. If you could somehow manage to forget about the past and take this episode on its own, it wasn’t actually too bad. A couple of the features were decent – others not so much.
But Top Gear’s biggest problem will always remain the fact that it isn’t like it was before. And unfortunately people have long memories.

Rich’s view

Is Top Gear the Blockbuster of the TV world?

We are in a new age of Top Gear, so how is the show going to carry on its success? Chris Evans was a logical choice for starters. We know Evans is a car fanatic, but so are many others. In choosing him, producers were hedging their bets. Despite having many haters, he’s a very popular presenter. He hosts the flagship Radio 2 show with 9.73m listeners and has built great influence on this platform.

So why is this important? It is Top Gear playing it safe. Evans has a large, broad audience and is already popular. It is the same principle responsible for why we see so many books made into films or old movies remade. I believe this is why the Top Gear format is still so similar, and I think the producers were too scared to deviate from the success they have had in the past.

Now, that sounds familiar.

Blockbuster is a shining example of what can happen if you don’t keep up with changing times. In so many industries these days, we can see the impact of brands too scared or comfortable to change until a disruptor comes along. Airbnb and Uber are examples are disruptors as is carwow, offering customers a new way to by cars – changing the automotive industry again.

For Top Gear, we can already see a potential disruptor on the horizon – The Grand Tour. A show that is eagerly anticipated and with at least three of the popular elements of Top Gear. Will they play it safe and focus on the personalities, or will they look to change what we think we know about TV car shows?

Emily’s view

For me, the new Top Gear started off on a bad note purely down to all the false promises we were given as viewers. “Top Gear hosts auditions for fresh talent” and weeks later it’s revealed that the only “non-celebrity” presenters are well-known YouTube star Chris Harris and equally-famed motoring journalist Rory Reid. “I will never present Top Gear,” said Chris Evans, and then he makes a full U-turn with the flat excuse that he never thought he would be given the opportunity.

Trust is an important thing for viewers, the same goes for consumers and brands.

I looked at my Twitter feed before watching and caught up on iPlayer but tried to keep an open mind. Would I have had the same opinion if I hadn’t been exposed to social media and marketing of the launch. Maybe. But I can’t help feeling as though it all set the show up for a fall, leaving Amazon rubbing its hands together.

And on that bombshell

So there you have it, from our automotive experts to yours. We’re not quite as down on the new format as we first thought but we’re very conscious of what it means for the automotive sector and can see the huge, yet uncertain, potential the launch has for automotive search and social campaigns.

What’s your view? Share it with us on Twitter.

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