How to destroy your brand

I follow Formula 1 racing, mostly because the high technology fascinates me -- these things are basically upside down aeroplanes -- which has nothing to do with either history or writing, but I mention it today for an interesting reason.

F1 has a set of standard races they do throughout the year, each held in various exotic locales. And that's where the fun begins, because one of those locales is Bahrain. Bahrain is ruled by a monarchy that's been somewhat prominent in the news recently for slaughtering its citizens who are demanding a democracy. As crackdowns go, the rulers have been remarkably efficient. In fact just today the BBC reports that the hospital staff who treated the injured have been charged with taking part in illegal protests for criminal ends; also for, hard as this may be to believe, inciting hatred against the ruling system.

The Bahrain F1 race was officially postponed when the violence began. Everyone assumed this was a polite way of saying "cancelled". But no! A few days ago the officials in charge of the racing decided it was all right to go ahead now, because everything's calmer. (It is indeed calmer, because anyone who raises his head gets it beaten.)

Needless to say, every human rights group and pro-democracy movement on the planet has come out snarling about the F1 decision. Even the UK government got itself interested. A number of petitions instantly sprang up. The one that got a lot of traction was by an organization called avaaz.org. (Traction for an anti-race petition...yes, that was a deliberate pun...by Gad I'm witty.)

This petition targets the Red Bull team, which is the most vulnerable to bad publicity because they're leading the competition and they're only in the game to sell their drink products. Those are the red bull drinks which, if this race goes ahead, are about to become as popular as cucumbers.

So far avaaz has just short of 440,000 signatures. Wow, that's an awful lot of people. Since this decision was taken only 3 days ago, I estimate the petition must have gained on average about one signature every 2 seconds, non-stop, for 3 days. And all because some guys thought it was okay to hold a race to collect the management fees.

The Bahraini government is treating it as a propaganda victory, but with almost half a million people annoyed enough to sign a petition, you'd have to assume the team sponsors are seriously displeased. They pay enormous sums to the race teams out of their marketing budgets, for the brand name exposure. So if this race goes ahead, then some of the world's biggest brands are going to have their names pasted all over cars that are racing around inside one of the world's most repressive regimes. The marketing directors must be overjoyed.

6 comments:

Gary Corby said...

Update: it crossed 440,000 signatures while I was writing the post.

RWMG said...

But of those 440,000, how many actually follow F1 and know who sponsors the teams? And care enough to translate clicking on a link to register their disapproval of the Bahrein regime into real life decisions about the sponsors?

Gary Corby said...

That's very true. An unknown percentage will be people who habitually sign petitions.

The audience numbers for F1 races are mind-boggling. The rule of thumb estimate is usually given as 500 million viewers. There's a belief that the number of hardcore fans is roughly 500,000, that being the number who respond to stuff on the internet, and that's roughly in line with the petition size, which has just hit 450,000.

So my rough and wild guess? About half the petition are people who are F1-aware, which would come to half the hardcore fans. That'd be roughly consistent with the numbers on one of the most popular F1 blogs where they did an online poll and found 96% of readers were against the race.

I have to say though, wouldn't a publisher kill for audience numbers like these?

RWMG said...

Wouldn't the analogy be with publishing as a whole? Authors are the drivers racing towards bestsellerdom with the winner becoming JK Rowling or Dan Brown. Then the numbers would really be comparable if not all in publishing's favour.

Gary Corby said...

That's a fun way of looking at it. Then the imprints are like the teams, and the authors like their drivers. Except the imprints never at any time act like their people are part of a team, and instead of 24 drivers there are thousands.

Whether authors are in competition is an interesting question...hmm, I feel a blog post coming on.

Gary Corby said...

So after unbelievable amounts of bad publicity, they've called off the Bahrain race!