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Pat McAssey

Sports and the automotive industry through the lenses of public relations, marketing, and branding.

Top Gear Is Stuck In Second Gear

The rebooted Top Gear premiered in the U.S. Monday and the reviews, so far, have not looked good – hence the cheesy Friends reference.

Let me start by saying I, like millions of others around the world, was a huge fan of Top Gear when Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May were the hosts. For over 20 seasons, Clarkson, Hammond, and May managed to tap into the child-like part of our imaginations to provide viewers with television that they didn’t even know they wanted (i.e., car soccer).

Additionally, the trio’s on-screen chemistry is something that cannot be manufactured, which, in my opinion, is the main reason the show was so successful for so long. Every week when viewers turned on their TV to watch ‘three blokes on a car show,’ they saw back and forth banter that every group of friends engages in once they’ve known each other for too long.

This leads me to the reason I was hesitant to watch the Top Gear reboot. I was afraid that because Top Gear was so successful, the BBC would try to replicate that success by trying to replicate the show itself. However, when Chris Evans was still the only host that had been announced, I saw a quote that put that fear to rest. Evans said something along the lines of, “Why try to do exactly what they [Clarkson, Hammond, and May] did, if they’ve already done it so well?”

Evans’ mindset combined with the signing of Matt LeBlanc, Sebine Schmitz, Chris Harris, and Eddie Jordan, made me think that this new take on the world’s most popular motoring show might be all right after all. Unfortunately I was wrong.

To start, Evans either forgot that he shouldn’t copy Clarkson, or he just thought we wouldn’t notice that he was trying to. Every voice-over he did, whether it was for the intro or his review of the Viper SRT, was done with one of the worst imitation of Clarkson’s voice that I have ever heard.

The second, and biggest problem I had with the show was the in-studio dialogue. Evans and LeBlanc tried to do exactly what I said was impossible by attempting to manufacture chemistry. Although it is filmed in front of a live studio audience, the magic of Top Gear is not found in the script like most shows. Instead, the magic of Top Gear is the presenters’ ability to transition seamlessly from scripted to improvised material without any of the jokes feeling forced.

Another problem with the show had to do with the changes that were actually made. There were a number of tweaks to the format of the show that seemed very gimmicky and didn’t actually add any value to the program, such as having a larger audience, a more elaborate set, and having the celebrity guests introduce each other by reading off queue cards. Additionally, getting rid of the news segment of the show and replacing it with Extra Gear, a half-hour program that airs after each episode, was a mistake. It is hard enough to retain an audience for a full hour, which means that many people will have missed out on additional content and, in this case, Chris Harris and Rory Reid’s first appearances on the program.

However, there is one change that was made to the show, which almost everybody agrees was smart. The segment previously known as ‘Star In A Reasonably Priced Car’ is now ‘Star In A Rallycross Car.’ To ensure that each lap is as entertaining as possible, the rallycross track that the stars will drive on was designed with the help of World Rallycross driver, Liam Doran. The new track incorporates several corners from the original Top Gear Test Track, as well as two gravel sections that present challenges such as handbrake turns, a splash pool, and even a jump.

Top Gear Test Track Map
An areal view of the Top Gear Test Track.

What’s so frustrating about the fact that the new Top Gear is trying to be so similar to the old Top Gear is that the BBC can and has done better. There are Top Gear spinoffs all over the world, including here in the U.S., which managed to reimagine a show based on the original but with their own unique style. When speaking about the American version of Top Gear, May even said, “They’ve been forced to take our format…but I think they’ve got the potential to steer it off. While it will still be Top Gear, and recognizably the Top Gear format, it will be an American Top Gear and it will be like an American TV show.”

Hopefully, with more time, this new group of presenters will also be able to adapt the show to be more representative of their personalities. But until then, the future does not look too bright for this new Top Gear.

2017 Tesla Model 3: one car to change them all

Thursday at 11:30 p.m. Eastern time all eyes in the auto industry were on Silicon Valley as Elon Musk took the stage to reveal the 2017 Tesla Model 3. The Model 3 is arguably one of the most anticipated and important cars to ever go into production.

Per a blog post from Musk, “Our goal when we created Tesla a decade ago was the same as it is today: to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass-market electric cars to market as soon as possible.” However, in order to accomplish this goal – and successfully enter into an industry that has large barriers to entry – Musk employed what he refers to as the ‘Top Secret Master Plan.’

Musk’s ‘Master Plan’ is broken down into three stages.

Stage one was a high price, low volume car, which proved to the world that electric cars can be desirable – The Roadster.

Stage two was a mid volume, premium car, which showed that an electric car can be better than a gasoline powered car in almost every measurable way – The Model S. After a few years, Tesla expanded its reach by building a crossover that is based on the platform of the Model S – The Model X.

Stage three is a high volume, affordable car, which will make sustainable transport accessible to the masses – The Model 3.

The Model 3 will start at a base price of $35,000 with no options, before government incentives. That being said, even with no options, you will be hard pressed to find another car for the same price that offers the same value for money. Specs have not yet been released for the top of the range variants, but even the baseline specs are impressive to say the least.

The Model 3 will offer seating for five adults, an EPA rated 215 miles of range, and will go from zero to 60 mph in under six seconds. Additionally, every Model 3 will come standard with supercharging capability and autopilot hardware. Also the Model 3 will be the safest car in its class with a five star safety rating in every category.

As impressive as those specs are, what is the most impressive about the Model 3 is the demand for it. When Musk walked onstage Thursday to reveal the Model 3 to the world, over 100,000 people had already spent $1,000 to reserve one before ever having seen it.

Customers were lined up outside Tesla showrooms in a scene that was similar to when a new iPhone gets released. However, unlike customers who camp out for an iPhone, Tesla customers didn’t get to go home with their new toy. Instead they went home knowing that, when delivery of the Model 3 begins at the end of 2017, they would not have to wait again.

The fact that Tesla has managed to garner such a large following despite this being its first mass-market car has to do with its innovative approach, corporate culture, and belief in its mission. Musk described it best when he said, “Tesla is very much a Silicon Valley company that has a Silicon Valley operating system, which is similar to what’s at Google or Apple or Facebook, and joined together with a tremendous amount of automotive expertise.”

F1 May Finally Succeed in the American Market

Historically, NASCAR has reigned supreme in the U.S. This has made it difficult for Formula One to successfully enter the American market; and after The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Formula One Management (FOM) chose not to renew their contract in 2007 it seemed as though F1 had left the U.S. for good.

In 2012, however, the U.S. Grand Prix returned, and was held at the country’s first purpose-built F1 track – the Circuit of the Americas (COTA). Since then, F1 has begun to gain traction in the states.

Since NBC Sports Group began broadcasting F1 in 2013 there has been a steady increase in viewership each year, during a time when the sport has struggled to retain viewers across the pond. During the 2015 season, NBC had an average of 521,000 viewers per race – a 42 percent increase from 2013. Additionally, in 2015 Alexander Rossi became the first American to compete in a grand prix since Scott Speed left Toro Rosso in 2007.

However, in the final weeks before testing began for the 2016, Rossi lost out on a drive with Manor – the team with which he raced in four of the final five races in 2015.

It seemed as though all the progress F1 had made in the U.S. would be lost, but 2016 brought with it something special. A new team. An American team. Haas F1.

NASCAR team owner Gene Haas knew if he was to succeed in the high cost world of F1 he would have to be smart. He delayed his team’s entrance in the sport until 2016 so that they could be absolutely sure they were ready – and ready they were.

During testing in Barcelona, the team’s two drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez racked up a combined 474 laps. Heading to the first race in Melbourne everybody up and down the pit lane knew that Haas wouldn’t be another Caterham – they were there to compete. But I don’t think anybody could have predicted just how competitive they would be.

Gutierrez was forced to retire after a crash with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso caused the race to be red flagged on lap 17 of 57. Grosjean, however, managed to bring the sole remaining Haas across the line in sixth place, making Haas F1 the first team to score points on debut since Toyota entered the sport in 2002.

That is why this year could be so special. If Haas can continue to be competitive among the midfield teams, this could finally be the year. F1 may finally have the foundations for lasting success in America.

2016 BMW M2: First Impressions

If you were to ask 100 car enthusiasts to describe a BMW they will probably all give you the same answer – The Ultimate Driving Machine. If you were to ask those same 100 car enthusiasts to describe a BMW M car the answers might be a bit more varied.

For some it might be how connected to the road an M car makes you feel. For some it might be an M car’s perfectly balanced chassis. And for some it might be about an M car’s superb power-to-weight ratio.

While there might not be one unanimous description of an M car, one thing is certain – you know one when you see it. Enter the all-new 2016 BMW M2.

The M2 is not only one of this year’s most anticipated new cars, but also the car BMW enthusiasts have been waiting half a decade for.

In 2011 BMW gave the world the 1M – a 355 horsepower turbo-charged pocket rocket, made by slapping some parts from the E92 M3 into a 1-series. However, despite making enthusiasts drool whenever they saw its flagship ‘Valencia Orange’ glow, this modern classic’s production was short-lived. After just one year, BMW discontinued the 1M and left fans yearning for its successor.

Based on the current 2-series, the M2 follows the same recipe as the 1M before it by borrowing parts from the current generation M4. Besides the 19-inch wheels that give the M2 a noticeably aggressive look, its lightweight aluminum suspension, brakes, and Active M Differential are all lifted from the M4. To make all these underpinnings fit in the body of a 2-series, BMW gave the M2 wider hips and flared front wheel arches to match.

Under the hood the M2’s turbo-charged inline 6 cylinder engine packs a punch to match its aggressive styling. Its 3.0L engine puts out 365 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. To make sure the M2 can put that power down it comes, as standard, with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. All of this means the M2 can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in a blistering 4.4 seconds; choose the optional 7-speed Dual Clutch Transmission and that time falls to just 4.1 seconds.

Furthermore the M2 perfectly demonstrates the sophistication of modern turbochargers. For quite some time many purists have subscribed to the notion that there is no replacement for displacement; in other words naturally aspirated engines are better than turbocharged engines. However, with the M2 it is evident that this is no longer the case.

Unlike the turbocharged engines of yesterday, in the M2 there is virtually no turbo lag. The M2 reaches its peak torque at just 1450 rpm, which means from 1450 all the way to the 7000 rpm redline you have maximum torque at the disposal of your right foot. While this obviously is beneficial on the track it also means that when you pull out to pass a tractor-trailer on I-95, you don’t have to worry about making sure you’re in the right gear, just put your foot down and go.

In recent years there has been an increased emphasis in the automotive industry on in-cabin technology and, unsurprisingly, BMW has prided itself on being one of the industry leaders in this area. However, some have criticized BMW by saying that it’s putting too much focus on technology and not enough on the driving experience that the brand is known for. Hildegard Wortmann, senior vice president of BMW product management believes that the M2 will prove that a car can be loaded with technology without compromising performance. “I think it shows where the roots are, where the genes of the brand are,” said Wortmann, “I’m sure it [the M2] will be a top seller.”

The M2’s roots that Wortmann referred to can be traced back even further than the 1M to the E30 M3 and further still to the 2002. Somehow with the M2, BMW has managed to capture the essence of those small agile performance cars, and recreate it without sacrificing any of the luxuries we have come to expect from a modern car.

So, while 100 car enthusiasts might give you different descriptions of an M car, it is fair to say that they would all agree on one thing. The M2 is a car for BMW enthusiasts if ever there was one.

What Has The Super Bowl Become?

We live in a time, in which we are used to seeing advertisements anywhere and everywhere – magazines, billboards, the Internet, television, and even movies. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of sports.

In modern sports advertisements have not just become increasingly prevalent, they also shape the way in which games are played and consumed. Every sport now has rules about when media time outs are to be taken and every replay is ‘brought to you by Such-and-such Inc.’

Personally, I am fine with advertising playing such a big role in sports. More advertisements mean more revenue, and more revenue means we are shown the highest quality product possible. However, how much commercialization is too much commercialization?

In my opinion too much commercialization, is when the sport you are watching takes a backseat to the advertisements that it facilitates. In other words – the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl Ads
c/o Think with Google

Even in the last five years the focus of the Super Bowl has shifted so much toward advertising and entertainment that on the following Monday, the commercials are discussed as much as the game.

Odds are, unless you’re watching ESPN, most news shows will spend 1-2 minutes at most discussing the results of the game. However, those same shows will spend just as much time, if not more discussing their favorite commercials and the halftime show.

In no other sport does the championship game have to fight for its audience’s attention.

Now anybody who follows me on Twitter and saw me live tweeting the commercials will probably call me hypocritical, and so be it. I’m as guilty as the rest of us when it comes to feeding the commercialization of sports, but I am willing to admit the problem of doing so.

We are no longer consuming the sports we love that get interrupted by advertisements. Instead, we are consuming advertisements that are interrupted by gameplay.

Open Letter To Public Safety and Res Life: Do Your Job

So this is not what my blog posts are usually about but it needs to be addressed.

This evening, at roughly 1:30 a.m., there were complaints on social media of two men walking around the halls of Commons and peeping into girls rooms. The description of these men fit the description of two men that a resident assistant I know saw in the cafeteria earlier today at about 3 p.m. who were staring and making inappropriate faces and making female students feel uncomfortable.

When she approached these men, and calmly asked them to please stop acting inappropriately because they made students feel uncomfortable, they proceeded to yell at her and claim that they weren’t doing anything.

When I began seeing posts about these men on campus that same resident assistant called the RHD on duty and told her that the last they saw of the men they were walking towards New Rd but they have not been able to locate them. The RHD then proceeded to tell her that if she saw something earlier than she should have called public safety and reported it sooner than she did.

I’m sorry, what?

How about instead of telling your RA’s that they should have reported it sooner you tell Public Safety they should actually check parking passes when people come on campus.

OR how about instead of advertising the fact that we have been voted one of the ‘most safe campuses in America’ you make it so we are actually safe. These men were able to walk on our campus, stay here for almost 12 HOURS, walk around inside dorms, and then walk off campus when people finally started to complain about it.

Am I the only one that sees a problem with this?!

There are 3 guard booths on campus. Whoopdie do. Other than that you can walk on campus wherever you please and, apparently, walk off wherever you please without being bothered.

This is a problem that needs to be brought to light. In the four years I have been here I have made light of the fact that our campus is not as secure as the university claims it to be, until tonight.

What if these men had weapons? What if these men actually assaulted a student? Why is it that we get an email, a text message, and a voice mail when the People’s Bank on Whitney Ave is robbed but we get no notification when there are actually intruders on our campus.

Quinnipiac needs to worry less about it’s spotless record and worry about actually keeping its students safe.

Do not let this get brushed under the rug just because nothing happened this time.

Red Bull Saga Over

After multiple threats to pull out of the sport by Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz and a very public falling out with engine supplier Renault, it has been officially confirmed that both Red Bull and Torro Rosso will be on the grid for the 2016 Formula One World Championship.

About a month ago Red Bulls future in F1 looked very bleak. Red Bull had terminated its contract with Renault, Mercedes refused to supply them with engines, and Ferrari would only supply them with a 2015-spec power unit.

Fast-forward to today and that cloud of uncertainty is gone. Red Bull’s feeder team, Torro Rosso has announced that it will run 2015-spec Ferrari power units. And Red Bull…well its situation takes a bit more explaining.

Red Bull will once again have Renault power units in its cars but they will not be badged as Renault…or Infiniti…or even Nissan. In fact under Red Bull’s new agreement with Renault it will not conduct any marketing activities with the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Instead it will run Renault power units, which will be branded as TAG Heuer.

Now before you ask if that was a typo, this is not the first time an F1 team has used TAG Heuer-branded engines. In the 80’s McLaren ran Porsche engines, branded as TAG Heuer. A bit ironic considering TAG Heuer ended its 30-year partnership with McLaren to join forces with Red Bull in 2016.

Also, from a marketing standpoint, TAG Heuer putting its names of F1 engines does make a decent amount of sense even though it sells watches not cars. TAG Heuer’s watches are known for their precision engineering, so putting its name on an F1 engine reinforces that brand image.

Plus, if Red Bull has a better year in 2016 – which would be hard not to do – TAG Heuer will be able to say it had a hand in getting the former world champions back to the front of the grid.

Enormous Endorsements

If you’re like me, when you heard Nike had signed LeBron James to a lifetime endorsement deal, one word popped into your head. Why?

Initially I thought that it was a stupid idea to sign anybody to a lifetime deal. After all, sometimes athletes screw up.

lebron ad
Nike advertisement after the 2015 NBA Finals (c/o NBC Sports)
But as I kept thinking about it I realized how wrong I was. Allow me to explain.

Alex Rodriguez, Tiger Woods, and Lance Armstrong. All three of these men had/have endorsement deals with Nike. All three of these men had very public scandals. Yet, despite these seemingly similar scenarios Woods is the only one who is still endorsed by Nike. The reason is simple. Rodriguez and Armstrong’s scandals had to do with performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), whereas Woods’ had to do with (many) acts of adultery.

When Nike first signed deals with these three men it did so because they were top competitors in their respective sports and that is the type of ATHLETE it wanted to be the face of its product. When it was discovered that Rodriguez and Armstrong had cheated to perform at such a high level Nike decided to drop them because that is not the type of ATHLETE it wanted to be the face of its product.

Like I said, people screw up, Nike knows that. That is why when it was discovered that Woods had committed adultery Nike decided not to drop him. Nike signed an endorsement deal with the Tiger Woods you see on the golf course not the Tiger Woods whose wife chased him down the driveway with a wedge. Woods may not be a perfect person, but who is.

Nike realizes that consumers don’t associate those actions with its products because they had nothing to do with sports. That’s why Nike’s decision to keep its endorsement deal with Woods did not have a negative effect on sales. However, had Nike decided to continue its endorsement deals with Rodriguez and Armstrong, it would be completely different. Because both Rodriguez and Armstrong’s wrongdoings were associated with their respective sport, in the consumers mind, it would have been associated with Nike as well.

So to bring this all back to Nike’s new deal with LeBron, why wouldn’t they sign him for life? The likelihood that he is using PEDs is slim to none, and to date he hasn’t had any major incidents off the court; which, even if he did it would have little effect on Nike (provided he didn’t commit a crime). So wouldn’t it make sense for Nike to sign a deal with him now, worth $500 million, as opposed to signing a short-term deal and then potentially having to pay more than that to extend the deal? I think so.

Lesson learned, far be it for me to question the endorsement deals made by the brand that practically invented endorsement deals.

Sponsorships Or Social Efforts: Which Investment Is More Valuable

As millenials have gained power in the world of marketing, the industry has seen a shift in philosophy, which stresses the importance of digital and social media marketing. Does this mean, however, traditional sponsorships are less valuable to brands?

Yes and No.

It is true that effectively utilizing social media can generate a significant level of brand awareness; however, this does not mean that sponsorships no longer stand out in consumers’ minds.

During the 2014 FIFA World Cup Pepsi executed a timely, soccer-relative marketing campaign and, as a result, had more brand awareness in the U.S. than any official sponsors of the tournament. That being said, U.S. consumers still were able to recall Coca-Cola as the World Cup’s official partner.

Similarly, Oreo was one of the most talked about brands following Super Bowl XLVII because of one very timely tweet. During the brief power outage at the Super Bowl, Oreo tweeted an image of an Oreo with the line, “You can still dunk in the dark.” The tweet went viral almost immediately and Oreo generated more brand awareness than they ever would have if they had sponsored an athlete or a team.

BMW, on the other hand, is an official sponsor of Team USA and generates plenty of brand awareness as a result of it. The reason for the success of BMW’s partnership is something that adage.com refers to as, strategic activation. Adage says that for a brand to get the best ROI that they possibly can out of a sponsorship, it must go above and beyond just being a financial backer.

BMW has achieved this by working with Team USA on multiple occasions to develop equipment to be used in the Olympic and Paralympic games. First BMW developed a bobsled for Team USA to use in Winter Olympics. More recently however, it developed a lightweight aerodynamic wheelchair for Team USA’s Paralympic team.

The bobsled that BMW developed for Team USA. C/O BMW USA
The bobsled that BMW developed for Team USA.
C/O BMW USA

This brings me back to my answer to the question – does the newfound value of social media mean that sponsorships are no longer of value to brands? Sponsorships and social media marketing efforts both provide value to a brand, provided that the brand executes its campaign effectively.

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