Letter From The UK: Influencing & The Art of Selling Cars

Gather round and harken unto this tale of woe . . .

A couple of weeks ago I took delivery of a brand new Audi A6 saloon to enjoy and discuss for seven days with a view to a review in due course. That’s what I do. That’s why car makers lend me cars; to promote their wares. It’s a win-win situation but it does cost the manufacturers a lot of money. Fortunately, being a small country, the cars can be same day delivered by road. It all adds up, one way and another, to around a thousand of our British Pounds to loan cars to tired old hacks like me.

So it doesn’t help when cars get damaged.

The Story of The A6

The sad story is that the A6 (pictured below) was parked (legally!) in the High Street of the attractive country town of Marlborough. While we were away a bizarre road traffic accident occurred and a vehicle broadsided the A6. When my wife and I came back to the car it was double-take time. This was not how we left it; surrounded by damaged motors, police, and an emergency ambulance.

The long and the short of it is that we were stranded. I phoned the Audi press officer and he sprang into action. Within a couple of hours, the stricken A6 had been lifted, the guilty party taken to the hospital, statements organised with the cops, and we were on our way home thanks to my son-in-law. Audi didn’t stop there though: That same afternoon a replacement car in the form of an A3 cabriolet was delivered to my house. How’s that for service? Insurance aside, how much money this must cost the company I shudder to think.

But I do wonder if this situation can continue for much longer and I blame YouTube.

The Audi A6 prior to the unfortunate accident. Photo: DriveWrite Automotive.

The Rise of The Influencer

It is indisputable that automotive media is changing. Later this year, this writer will be starting to video reviews and I have all the charisma of Elmer Fudd, but what can you do? It seems to me that “YouTuber” and “Influencer” are now proper jobs and the young bucks of motoring are taking advantage.

Mostly they are not trained in any way like we old magazine writers. The kit needed: cameras, a computer, even just a phone, plus a confident air are all that is required to make a low-rent car review.

In general, car manufacturers are very generous to motoring journalists and it is appreciated. We have access to press fleet cars and are invited to events and launches, all, or at least most, expenses paid. Recently, I was asked to attend, with VIP status, a prestigious motor racing event, for example. Very nice. Certainly the work can be demanding at times but you can’t fault the coffee and pastries upon arrival. How long now before this ends?

Car makers now invite these influencers to the same launches and events that the old-time hacks have been going to for decades. What has changed is the speed of production. What used to take maybe a month to get to print now can be online in glorious HD in just a matter of hours, as fresh as new paint. It is leading to tension. Old vs New. Changing Times. Sink or Swim.

Are Influencers Any Good?

Often, no. I have seen some truly terrible videos, purporting to be car reviews. I know how autos work; they clearly don’t. The trick seems to be to stand in a scenic place, the sun setting, pose, and talk a load of trendy nonsense. Self promotion as motoring journalism.

Conversely, there are some great new faces on YouTube promoting cars in a truly professional manner. Is it any wonder that car manufacturers like the idea. Firstly, the influencers come to them. They only need the car for a couple of hours or maybe a day. The effect is instant.

I do sometimes wonder who these online promotions are for though. Often times, young vibrant types are featured, frolicking, with little or no information about the car. Where is the sense in promoting a car to an audience who cannot afford to buy or lease it?

An example; I had the misfortune recently to witness a video of a young lad in skinny blue jeans and with very silly hair, speaking in a foreign language (in fact it was English, but not as we know it Jim) allegedly extolling the virtues of an F-Type Jaguar. I do not know any young people who could afford to buy this car. I can’t afford to buy this car. I do not know any older, financially viable people who would even watch this stuff; so who is it for?

Jaguar F-Type. Photo: Jaguar Land Rover.

Sign of The Times

The plain unvarnished truth is that car companies don’t care. They just want it out there and it is not unreasonable of them to want to do it as cost effectively as possible. Vlogging works, there is no question of that. Many car magazines of old have dispensed with the costs associated with paper and circulation and are now online. That’s how you are reading this; that’s if you’ve gotten this far.

Yet some magazines have healthy circulation. In the UK we have two weekly mags and several monthlies and they are doing alright. It’s my view that as things stand, there is space enough for both the old and new . . . for now.

Older people still like to know about the vehicles themselves. They love the smell of petrol in the morning. Youth though are more influenced by the eco-lobby to whom cars are the work of the Devil. It’s a fact that car ownership among the young folk of Britain is falling. Generally, the car industry is in a state of flux. They want to give the people what they want while at the same time giving governments and the green movement what they demand.

All I want is a beer, a V8, and an open road, but that’s just me. I wouldn’t want to influence you.

Geoff Maxted is a motoring writer, photographer, and author of our Letter From The UK series. Follow his work on Twitter: @DriveWrite

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