James Bond, Shop Vacs and the Value of Celebrity Endorsements

Last week, the New York International Auto Show kicked off with two days of official press conferences. Before the official launch, I had the chance to see a couple of special events – one by Honda and the other by Land Rover -- held in New York’s Hell's Kitchen district, and both of them underlined the value of public relations and celebrity endorsements. The first event was Honda’s and it was to show off the 2014 Honda Odyssey minivan. We walked into a relatively small area behind a few rollup garage doors, and the van was already there on display, so it wouldn’t be a dramatic reveal. A few dozen journalists milled around enjoying appetizers and drinks. The Odyssey is facelifted for 2014 with a few new visual cues, but the important stuff was in the cargo area. There, some enterprising Honda engineer – apparently spurred on by his daughter, who thought up the idea – stowed an on-board vacuum, supplied by Shop Vac. It tucks neatly behind a plastic panel and has a hose long enough to suck up all the Oreos a kid can throw. All in all, Honda’s budget for this event probably hovered in the tens of thousands, considering the rent of the space, the caterers, the bar tab and other miscellaneous expenses. Following that debut, we walked a few blocks to Land Rover’s event. It was obvious from the get-go that this was a different kind of launch. Outside, I noticed at least three production trucks like you’d see outside of Madison Square Garden when the Knicks were in town. Land Rover had set up a red carpet for photography of whatever luminaries were showing up.

James Bond, Shop Vacs and the Value of Celebrity Endorsements

Inside the building, the historic James Farley Post Office, hundreds of people were crowding toward the front for a glimpse of the big reveal, which had been pre-sold as a truly momentous occasion. Jaguar Land Rover’s Gerry McGovern gave a few introductory remarks, and the large screens began showing the new Range Rover Sport making its way through New York City, over bridges, fording water through closed tunnels, and over obstacles. When the camera crews finally caught a glimpse of the driver, it was none other than Daniel Craig – James Bond himself – apparently fresh off his duties getting the Queen of England to last summer’s Olympics. Craig drove the new Range Rover Sport directly into the building and onto the stage to tremendous applause. The question is: What was the value of that event? It certainly made the papers the next day, though some of the coverage wasn’t all that favorable. The New York Post reported that the appearance lasted “barely 007 minutes,” and that the actor left without as much as a word to the audience. Gothamist – and other outlets – reported that the “Skyfall” star received $1 million for the event. An unnamed PR representative for Jaguar Land Rover was quoted in the Post story that ” “We won’t comment on our relationship with Mr. Craig beyond confirming that Land Rover supports the charity S.A.F.E., of which the actor is a patron,” leaving the impression that maybe the million dollar check went to that charity, rather than Craig’s bank account. Meanwhile, Honda’s simple affair generated tons of positive press. It made an appearance on the Today Show the next morning. U.S. News and World Report wrote an entire piece on the 10-year-old daughter of the Honda engineer that came up with the idea. The HondaVac even made an appearance as the answer during the lightning round of the popular NPR news quiz show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.”
Twitter tells a similar story: The Range Rover announcement generated 71 retweets and 52 favorites for Land Rover. A picture of an anonymous hand sucking up a handful of Cheez-Its from the Odyssey was retweeted 201 times, with 59 favorites. Just before the Shop Vac reveal, one of my contacts from Honda leaned over to me and said “Everybody still loves a good gimmick.”

 Both Honda and Land Rover definitely had gimmicks. But one probably generated a few transactions that day, while the other might take years to pay off.

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