The Grand Tour, the new Amazon car show hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May launched to a huge fanfare a few weeks ago. Early reviews have been great and viewers appear to be lapping it up. I too was looking forward to the new programme. I eagerly signed up to Amazon Prime for my weekly fix of Clarkson, Hammond and May which I’d so sorely missed since Top Gear crashed off the air in 2015. So The Grand Tour is finally here but something has been bothering me about the new programme which no one else seems to be talking about – the brand.
On the face of it questioning whether The Grand Tour needs a better brand sounds ridiculous. With the might of Amazon behind them surely this will all have been refined months ago? Isn’t the logo plastered all over any marketing channel you care to mention? Well, yes, that’s all true and they’re doing a great job of marketing the show. However, branding is a many faceted discipline and beyond the obvious marketing push, posters and paraphernalia lies a deficit of brand personality they have yet to address.
For those unfamiliar with the old Top Gear, Clarkson, Hammond and May regularly referred to it as a ‘poky motoring show’ during their tenure. On the face of it this sounds like a simple enough gag. The programme started off in the late 1970s as a worthy and slightly dull consumer motoring programme and yet here were the three of them now in charge of it. When Clarkson had spearheaded the reinvention of Top Gear in 2002 they recognised a need to make the brand stand for something. They took that core idea – ‘a poky motoring show’ – and turned that thought into a typically humorous value statement. In other words, it became the very thing the new Top Gear brand stood for. By having a clear statement at the heart of a brand you can begin to communicate its values with authenticity in everything you do. In the case of Clarkson’s Top Gear, that manifested itself in a whole array of different quirks and stylings – which we can call their brand assets. So what were those assets? Fans of the show will recognise the following, albeit perhaps without realising they were all essentially ‘branding’:
• Men in white lab coats strolling on to screen doling out instructions to the team
• Use of blackboards and easels to display information for the viewer
• Lap times written on strips of paper with marker pens
• Catchphrases like ‘ambitious but rubbish’
Taken out of context the idea of showing the viewers a score board for that week’s challenge consisting of an easel, some paper and a marker pen sounds like a home-made disaster. But then remember their tongue-in-cheek value statement was ‘poky’ and it all starts to make sense. They constructed a visual language for Top Gear where each visual element, or brand asset, reinforced the programme’s sense of identity and provided the show with a unique brand personality. The presenting team’s humour perfectly suited their irreverent value statement and the visual style became a natural extension of themselves.
Which brings us back to The Grand Tour. What is its value statement? What does the new brand stand for? From my position on the sofa it looks like they don’t currently have one fully worked out, at least not as succinctly resolved as the old programme. So from a branding perspective The Grand Tour is a work in progress. To use the brand assets example again, in The Grand Tour they no longer use some strips of paper and a marker pen to record lap times and we can safely assume that’s Top Gear’s copyright anyway. So what does The Grand Tour do instead? They use a TV monitor in the studio with a slick (and slightly generic) graphical leader board to show where the latest cars rank in the list of times. It’s a bit by-the-numbers and the sort of thing you would expect rather than being a delightful surprise – a generic solution to a problem. The fundamental answer is to return to the brand and by understanding it fully you can create a unique and authentic overall brand experience. Top Gear could be summed up as ‘charmingly lo-fi’ in its approach to the assets that surrounded the action but as for The Grand Tour, we can’t yet say. The GT team have plenty of time over the next three series to thoroughly work out what their brand stands for and put those touch points in place. But they aren’t there yet.
It’s a similar task faced by any brand. You must understand what your brand stands for, be able to succinctly articulate what that is and then build a coherent style around those values with brand assets that speak authentically to your audience.