The Twittersphere has been all a-flutter over Jeremy Clarkson this week. Yet again. Frankly, I think it’s time to move on from talking about him.
The decision has been made. Producer-punching has been deemed unacceptable behaviour, no matter what the provocation (no sandwiches available, bless him) and no matter how incredible the talent is.
The majority of people believe the BBC brand to have acted in the ‘right’ way for its values. Now, the critical question we’re discussing is how the Top Gear franchise moves forward without Clarkson and his coterie, and how they can avoid crashing with a massive ‘told you so’ wallop.
Format is king. Learn from others.
In TV the right format which is king. Precedents have been set. Have I Got News for You lost Angus Deayton. Initial panic led to a solution which actually increased their viewing numbers by 20%.
Importantly, Clarkson was crucial in reinventing this format and that makes him an important talent in itself, but as a presenter he is an ‘ingredient’ in the brand which is Top Gear.
There are others to learn from. Yes, Alan Sugar is genius casting for The Apprentice (a format reinterpreted for the UK from the Trump version in the US) but BAFTAs were awarded for the full team effort. Film and TV brands are always a massive triumph for a team. We all know endless film and TV franchises who change the talent to great effect, inviting audiences to reconsider that franchise. Top Gear is the main brand here, Clarkson as preenter a powerful ‘ingredient brand.’ The fabulous Angela Rippon agreed, saying firmly on R4’s Broadcasting House “Top Gear is bigger than any presenter“.
And so ‘JC’ should be seen as similar to James Bond. Not for his propensity for (alleged) violence, or for his fabulously iconic style which has generated acres of media coverage and comment, but because ultimately, while the star of a show a critical decision, they are not automatically irreplaceable.
Know thy audience (today and for the future).
All brands going through stagnation or through a crisis need to urgently work to understand their audience properly. The Top Gear team need to have their finger on what is differentiating, relevant and credible about the format not just think about ‘how do we replace Clarkson’?
What I love about what Clarkson et al have done with Top Gear is that it’s gone from a petrolhead’s car discussion to a fabulous entertainment programme.
The humour and the human side of it all is what resonates for me. The Three Amigos with their squabbling, their teasing and their bantering. Top Gear is a buddy movie. So, if that’s the insight, who would work best to replace them? Forget replacing Clarkson with Alan Partridge (though it’s a hilarious idea), let’s find a dream team who know how to entertain – Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and Joanna Page? I hear Daniel Craig is pretty busy at the moment anyhow so I guess you’d need to rule him out as an option.
Rally the troops
Top Gear is top of mind for people right now. It’s ‘pub currency‘ – something everyone has a point of view on and will discuss over a pint.
This could be a moment in history where Top Gear get a second chance. Would they like to make it more relevant to a younger audience? Has Jeremy Clarkson’s audience got perilously older with him? (My 74 year old Dad was, I suspect, one of the ones who signed the petition). Are there people who had forgotten about it, or who have never watched it and who will suddenly be prepared to reconsider it?
There are millions who love him. There are millions for whom Clarkson’s polarising personality… how can I put this? It just doesn’t work for everyone. The deliciously droll Peter Serafinowicz was quoted in the Times this week: ‘Jeremy Clarkson is like Marmite. Disgusting‘. Top Gear is a multi-format brand with history and international appeal which spans different formats (it isn’t just the TV show but magazines, etc). Cars and motorsports continue to be fascinating, relevant and entertaining to millions of people. This is Top Gear’s chance to refuel, refresh and win over whole new audiences worldwide.
Speed is crucial
Top Gear can’t afford to take months considering this carefully. Caffeine spends all its time working with leaders who need to accelerate critical decision-making so that change can happen fast. Top Gear must be inventive about getting the right information and options as quickly as possible. This is desperately urgent, but this is also an incredible opportunity for them to maximise its current social spotlight and turn that into something relentlessly positive.
If you need to act quickly, find the right expert advisors to help turbo-charge the process. Seize the day. As Clarkson himself put it: ‘Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly being stationary that’s what gets you’.
Good luck to the Top Gear team; looking forward to seeing a brilliant evolution of your brand soon.
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