What Should TopGear do about the Stig? get a new one?

racing helmets colors stig bbcWe all know by now that the TopGear white Stig has written a book and revealed his long kept secret identity. How could he do this? (maybe I will find out when the book arrives)

The Stig was a great character that adds a lot of life to the show, although he doesn’t publicly get acknowledged for his work. (Maybe that is what he needed?) Still, his mysterious identity was the way that fans related to him. Nobody wanted to be like the Stig when he was jokingly shown as Michael Schumacher. That is just way too intimidating. And keeping the role anonymous also kept racing enthusiasts from arguing over the bias/skills that he has because of the driver’s specific experience. It was pure genius for the show and the robotic slightly alien personality they adopted for the Stig over time really brought a comedic element to the show also. (anyone remember the stig’s credit card or how he used it?) 

I’m not sure what the answer is to this question. Mr Ben Collins has lost the best gig he has had yet and now they have to reinvent the Stig in a new form because Jeremy Clarkson has said that Ben was fired for this breach of confidentiality and contract with the BBC.

Does this mean there will be a Blue Stig? Or other colors and shapes and sizes? Or will they bring real race car drivers into the show as regular presenters? I think Tanner Faust is a good example of why not. Race car drivers tend to be emotionless trash talking robots. Look at Tanner and Paul Tracy in that car crash of a show they have on cable. It’s painful because there is no real-person-experiencing-the-car type element that people can identify with and the guys seem a bit wooden on camera. So, I don’t recommend bringing in more race car drivers in as hosts.

Maybe the stig can be reinvented in an interesting way. Maybe there is a recall and they can get another Stig sent from the factory? Maybe borrow the Stig’s Fat American Cousin for a while? Maybe recruit new stigs and make it a competition between the different colored race suited Stigs? Maybe there is a story behind how each stig is born or made that can be amusing to us all. Or a school full of little Stigs running around to recruit from in the coming years? Or can they get a local car rental place to rent a stig with the VW Rabbit for a slight upcharge? This is the joy of writing for characters like this, you can just make it all up as it comes, and that has made it quirky and interesting for the last 10 years or so.

Some people may want them to get someone like Sabine in there (as herself), which could be interesting, but even she isn’t the same element to the show and she likes to trash talk too much. I don’t understand what that adds to a show. They could very well hire a driver to “play a robot/alien guy driver character” with their face shown but acting isn’t really what race car drivers are known for.  They could turn ridiculous and audition a bunch of other people in bear suits, or whatever but thats kind of jumping the shark. Maybe they could recruit one of the guys from Clarkson Island?

Anyway, back to reality. I really liked the impartial comparison of each car by this independent yet authoritative source in the show. I really liked it being anonymous and I also think the story/character adds a lot of fun. I’m not sure what Jeremy Clarkson & team have up their sleeves but I hope its good because he has 350 million people waiting on this decision.  This is the most universally popular show in the world because of how it represents people’s love affair with cars and irreverence about conventions. It’s the biggest thing to come from the UK since Monty Python in the irreverence department and we would like more please.  Whatever they do, they may want to consider a higher salary for the role or just pick a new stig every year. I’m sure that if the show ends they would be able to reveal this info since it wouldn’t be necessary anymore and have  Stig reunion episode or something.

 Update:  Maybe TopGear should hire Daft Punk as the next stigs, have one drive and the other with a digital mixing board making music during the test drives? They’ve already got the right wardrobe.

The Negatives of Social Networking Media

All the world is a Buzz about Facebook & Twitter these days. It’s almost like MySpace circa 2007, Google circa 2003 or Microsoft circa 1998. I don’t doubt the success, innovation or long-term viability of these social networking sites but I have seen that there are flaws in the system that mean that things won’t be perfect with the business along the way and we’re in for a bumpy road. Basically my point is that for all these sites give us in entertainment, social connections and opportunity they also have some negatives that are almost the equal and opposite pendulum action.

1. Time Suck – all social networking sites are using your time that you used to devote to other things. Maybe in some cases this is actually a better use of your time (instead of TV) but in most cases its time spent that you used to use for researching new information for work projects,  time actually spent talking with people in person (family/friends) or time spent doing things that really need to be done at work or home. Once the brain gets trained that you can go socialize instead of work at those times of day it’s a habit extremely hard to break. For all of us procrastinators looking for instant gratification its a real problem keeping up with work and affects the overall productivity of companies and the country as a whole. Internet access is much more prevalent and has far more users during the business day than it does at night, so there’s the proof. Unless your job is trolling these sites for sales prospects by “connecting” and making “relationships” with your customers, its a waste of time to spend more than 15 min a day.

2. Privacy – Of all the details analyzed about consumer privacy online (on Facebook) in the last few weeks the most suprising thing I’ve seen is that people really don’t care about their information online. Sure, nobody is going to post a ss number or cc number on their profile (duh) but they don’t really seem to realize the power of logging all their social interactions in one database and selling access to retailers and cpg companies who have even larger databases of information to analyze and strategize with. Is it really as fun when most of your friends are companies selling you things all the time? Twitter already has morphed into the largest opt in direct marketing platform I’ve ever seen. If people keep using it at this rate it will surpass email. The other obvious issues come with the work life balance thing and when people friend work makes and think nobody will see them rant about work or post drunk pictures on a sick day, but then again I’ve heard that its just people naturally selecting themselves out of the working pool.

3. Logic – the other issues I’ve seen coming for a while have to do with how everything that is built from large databases online with lots of consumer data seems to not work properly. There is always some algorithm developed by a science tech guy based on some theoretical calculus and it doesn’t provide relevant results. Which brings me to a repeating theme of data right now: we don’t really know what to do with it yet. Nobody knows enough real info about their customers to target them. (who has a budget for that?) And the database people just like to say they improved things a statistically insignificant amount with an algorithm tweak. The marketing strategy/process should always start with offline real life information about people and products and then develop an algorithm to show you information in that way. I don’t know why it’s always done backwards but it will keep our results irrelevant and marketing dollars wasted for a long time to come.

New Media and New Information Paradigms

I have been hearing about the demise of the newspapers, the rise of search/social networking/new media and the internet fragmentation concept for years now. (almost a decade?) And I just read about it again today with the newspapers secretly meeting to try and sort out monetization methods to save their business. At the same time I am a Guinea pig living through this time of change/shift in how people find information, use information and consume things. Here are some of my observations although not in a concise dissertation format yet. 

  • We are at an odd time in internet evolution, on pause between big developments. We got email, IM, web sites, RSS feeds, Blogs, social networking and now Twitter. We don’t need more services or ways to interact on the web. We need better all inclusive ways to connect and consume all in one. Ways to make the experience more relevant and more inclusive of many kinds of content at the same time. Not wasting our time.
  • I can’t help but notice that at 33 I have never really “read” a newspaper. This indicates to me that newspapers were not that important back in the 1980’s to my generation when their profits were healthy and the internet was but a dream for most of us. (Except being something to line litter boxes and bird cages with.) I hate the size format, I hate the ink and I always have. I actually like the ads though, especially the Sunday fliers. 
  • Weeks go by without my watching any TV. This started about 3 years ago when I got high speed internet. It’s not that I don’t like TV, I just don’t have time to sit for 2 hours plus and I know if i sit down I won’t get up and get anything accomplished in the evening/weekend. And I don’t like overly repetitive things. I was watching the sell that house shows on HGTV to get ideas about how to sell mine and after about 3 I got it and didn’t need to watch any more. Reruns aren’t nostalgic to me really, more just boring. And reruns is all Cable TV is about.
  • The only TV I will drop everything for is Top Gear UK. When it is in Season we trek over to my parent’s house and watch wwith extended family weekly. Everybody drops everything to watch that show. It makes you laugh, it makes you dream of fancy cars and it inspires you to take grand adventures regardless of what the outcome is.
  • This leads me to a general cluelessness about a lot of local and newsworthy (?) events. Things like buses that are Hijacked and what the weather will be tomorrow. I also find that these things weren’t essential to me in the first place. I carry an umbrella, what’s the big deal?
  • I find myself focusing on things I’m interested in. Maybe this is the political polarization people speak of? I read my marketing emails/newsletters/blogs as well as home design blogs and write my own blog as well. I check status on Facebook/Twitter/Flickr and maybe update if I have something interesting to say. And I work a lot. I also am always investigating 2-3 new directions for my work/career. Not all of them pan out, but they help me figure out what is evolving that I need to know about.
  • I do still use the phone (yes the land line). It is the best way to reach my parents and Steve’s parents. Steve’s parents email but mine are not really into it. And we try and go visit once a week in person. In person time still matters.
  • I am a book reader because I am a train commuter. I have been for years now and it has created a small library of business/marketing/analysis books. I order from amazon when I see something I like and then go consult the pile of books for something new.
  • And that is all I have time for. Now with a husband (fiancee really for one more month), 3 cats, 4 litter boxes, a yard, wedding planning, condo selling, house hunting, family organizing, laundry, food shopping & cooking I am overbooked. I don’t even get to skype/call my friends very often. A party invite seems really daunting these days with the schedule we keep.
  • I wonder about new media uses and if we will really care about anything not personally relevant to us in the future? Will a police chase matter to everyone in Chicago or just the people who live by the highway where it happens? Will we be less distract-able by sensational news and distracting entertainment? Will we be able to channel the news, information and analysis we really need into our lives and ignore the products/content we really don’t care about?
  • On the other side of the coin, how will we ever discover new things? I find myself looking to find out what is happening on the internet a few times a week and look to Google News and the Yahoo home page. Not the Trib. Yet somehow the list at these sites is always limited and not really anything relevant either.
  • There has to be something in-between a completely open fire hose of information and one select rss feed with just content from one niche area. There has to be some middle ground between being hijacked by ads for 20 minutes of a 60 minute program on TV and not knowing at all where to find a dress for my rehearsal dinner when my usual 5 clothing websites didn’t pan out. (who has time to go to a mall?) ((and why does Google shopping suck when the main search is generally good??))
  • People won’t pay for news. Period. They will pay for some kind of extra relevant cool service though. They will pay for innovation, new products that are noticeably better for some reason. Things that simplify your life.
  • Ads should not be integrated more with content as if they were the content. It blurs the line in what is really true and what is marketing speak. And although they may pay the bills for a while, people will eventually figure it out and abandon that medium that does this.
  • We need another search player. Google is not enough and although they do some things well, I am not a fan of everything they create. I would like more companies to work on real time indexing of information as well as historical archiving to keep information accessible if anything happens to Google’s accessibility. At some point people will be so hooked they will be able to charge for a (low cost) subscription to the search engine itself. 
  • More people need web enabled phones with internet use active. I just read yesterday that out of 57 million people in the US with internet capable mobile phones only 18 million have internet enabled! (netpop stat comparing us to China) 31.5% of the people with internet use phones don’t even pay for internet access? (only 13% of all the cell phones total) This is a huge hurdle to making info more relevant and accessible because people carry their phones everywhere. Things like bigger screens, flatter profiles and easier software app use on these phones will help the adoption rates improve. 
  • Identity management and security is also a problem. We might like something like OpenID but only if sites still allow anonymous comments too. Privacy and being able to say something important without being hunted down in person for your opinion necessary for getting people to adopt this identity management software and make our lives easier between all the hundreds of web sites and e-commerce activities we do in a day and consolidating that information for our own personal use.   
  • Data mining is going to have to improve. If statistics are wrong 25% of the time like stated in the Numerati book, we really need to combine automated data crunching with human decisions about data more often. Numbers are meaningless without someones explanation. This completely changes what and how data is configured, crunched and reported and can determine/undermine your results even if you manage to collect it perfectly.
  • All this plus the only way out of a recession is through innovation. We’re waiting.

TopGear Weddings and Marketing

Those are three things I seem to be talking about this morning.

1. I am slightly jealous that the TopGear crew already incorporated themselves into someone’s wedding and therefore probably won’t be able to find a way into mine at Cantigny in the suburbs of Chicago. Bummer. Maybe we should rent the corvettes then? As an homage to TopGear and our love of cars? Read the full story here at the Daily Mail from the UK. And the Sun UK. Maybe we can do some kind of challenge in getting from the wedding ceremony to the reception? If any of the TG crew reads this blog thanks for including my ideas if and when that ever has possibly happened.

2. Wedding Planning is arduous and totally consuming of every second of free time you have when you are this close to the final date. I haven’t been updating this blog because there are so many things to manage. Oh and did I mention the I have to move out of my condo in 3 weeks also? It finally sold after 6 months of marketing and price lowering. Maybe moving would be a good TopGear challenge? Just don’t let them plan a wedding, that would be disasterous. No amount of compensation for mucking up would help fix that after the fact.

Between figuring out who will be attending, seating charts, making things like name cards and menu cards, making tiny bows on wedding favors, picking the set lists for the music, meeting with the church minster, and the soloist, seeing a test run of the flowers, getting the gown hemmed, insisting that the groomsmen and fathers to finally go rent their damn tuxes already, and matching the table runners and who knows what the f else, I have no time. It is a bit frustrating already. Now that I think about it, I am about ready to offer to turn it over to the TG folks out of frustration and a lack of sleep. I almost don’t care how it turns out, I just want my life back.

3. It hasn’t helped that I have been swamped with work either during this time, so I haven’t been able to blog about new online marketing trends either which is what I do for a living and should be easy and quick to write about. But I am working 12 hour days for difficult clients right now, so this isn’t happening either.  Anyway, it will be a while until this blog is updated regularly again, but I do plan to be back starting July 12th.

Update; the only TG tie in at my wedding was that we had a TopGear Table and a Nurbergring Nordschlefe Table. We also had a Star Wars table a Les Chats Table and a bunch of others named after our hobbies and interests.

Official News: TopGear USA on NBC confirmed

topgear usa, adam corolla, gear, NBC, BBCSee more info on Jalopnik here. Apparently TopGear (or Gear) as they call it here will be coming to the US with Adam Corolla after all. I am not sure when though. You would expect someone like me to be crazy go nuts for this right now but I have to admit I look at NBC remaking this EPIC series with a bit of skepticism. I find that it is hard to remake a series that was a mix of personalities more than content. It relies heavily on who they choose and even if you get exact replicas of James, Jeremy and Richard there is no guarantee that they will get along in the same manner. Even if it is partially scripted (GASP!). Anyway I guess we will have to hang out watching our old episodes of TG UK on DVD all summer and wait this out to see if the TG UK season 11 and the TG USA season 1 have legs this fall. (they seem to have copied at least the TG hairstyles from this picture)

TopGear USA Names New Host Adam Corolla

adam corolla, topgear USA, Gear, NBC, host, presenter, newAs Jalopnik reported last week Adam Corolla has been named the first host of TopGear USA in it’s newest iteration of GEAR on NBC in 2009. (per an announcement on his radio show and some pix with TG cars, see K Nob left.) I have read all kinds of mixed reviews online and heard people’s opinions on this pick and here are my thoughts to add to the fray:

1. I don’t know Adam Corolla from a bag of rocks but a lot of people seem to know him from The Man Show and they seem to think he is funny and willing to get shoved in frozen lake for a laugh. (which sinefeld and leno wouldn’t do) This is encouraging. He doesn’t have a persona that is so well known it is career limiting (being typecast) yet people are pretty sure he can do (or has done) Improv in his day and has some snark. This was a big qualifier for this job. I am sure they did some pilot episode recording or something to compare the candidates on film (per Richard Hammond’s book where he mentions his interview & audition) and I bet Adam probably does ok in the snark category. (he also seems to do well in the 1991 wardrobe category) This is probably the most important part of the selection process.

2. Many people seem to be up in arms about the TopGear USA show needing to be an exact replica of the TG UK show down to the exact personality traits of each host. (presenter) They say they need an overbearing stubborn tall guy, and an emotional and hyper short guy and a long haired geeky guy. This couldn’t be more wrong. You need some great personalities, some strong opinions and some great improv and mucking about to make a great show. You can’t re-create the actual people and their attitudes over here that Jeremy, Richard and James have in real life. That would be monkey-stupid and not at all viable. The mix should be diverse but the personalities all will be different.

2.5 I have also read that people think Adam Corolla doesn’t have a car background. He must have some car knowledge though or else they wouldn’t have selected him. I would guess that you would have to have all of the following skills to host: know how to drive a manual transmission well enough to talk to the camera and drive at the same time, know some basic autocross skills for the lap times and tests, be familiar with fancy and race type cars so that you know how to power slide and such. I would also hope the person genuinely enjoyed power sliding and pushing a car’s limits. I think a lot of the technical things that Jeremy, James and Richard say are discussed with the producers and prep people of TG to give them some topline analysis from the team of research geeks behind the scenes. Hopefully NBC’s GEAR will have a team of car geeks behind the scenes too.

3. Some people are complaining that the show will be all about NASCAR and that will suck ass. Yes, that would technically suck ass if it happened, but I think the show will have diverse talent and diverse activities all around the different car type groups. (Imports, Domestics, Pony Cars, Muscle Cars, Roadsters, Trucks, Minvans, SUVs, Street Racing Mods, Low Riders, Classics, Really old Classics, Classics with wooden wheels, Green Ecological leaf-eating Cars, Exotics and Supercars. And hopefully there will be some fun crossover with the auto racing sports in this country Indy, CART, NASCAR, Funny Cars, F1, Unlimited Fuel Dragsters, Autocross, Sprints, and Demolition Derbys at the county fair. (please use the last one I beg you) The content is usually based on a couple things:

    A. Supercars awe inspire us all, so cover as many of those as possible and make the editing and camera work turn it into car pron. This keeps the 10-50 yr old boys happy, and the beauty of the cars even makes it interesting to some of us women. We also enjoy the speed.

    B. People need practical every day cars reviewed in a non-sleep inducing non-autoweek way. This means everything from the YuGo to the Mercs. (by merc I mean Mercedes not Mercury, I can’t believe I just said that) I can’t believe MOTORweek is still on TV. I want to shoot my television when I run across that show accidentally.

    C. Challenges building things and Road Trips through other countries are the comedy and entertainment portion of the program. Do the ridiculous, seriously. Do the serious, ridiculously. And please Fork it up in ways we never thought possible. The only difference here is that it should require less passport use in the USA. Route 66 anyone? Highway 1 PCH?

    D. Weird sometimes stupid stunts. Jumping minivans and seeing how long a car runs with all the coolant drained out of it. endurance, destruction and general stunt-ness is needed here. These segments are short on time and long suspense and hopefully provide either humor or carnage or both. (ala the car chases in the blues brothers movie)

    E. The Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment. It allows the BBC to make some marketing money and it gives us some interesting non-car related person in an autocross race situation. This either ends up being impressive or rediculous, it works great either way. I recommend a Chevy Malibu as the car here. It’s so average it hurts. It will also be painful seeing George Clooney actually sit in one instead of the fancy schmantsy things he is used to.

But the question I want answered that no one was asking is: Did Adam Corolla get the job just because he was named after a cheap econo-box Japanese car? If so it’s a really bad pun, and I wouldn’t mention it. I think using the corolla as the reasonably priced car is out too.

Also read about the interview with Adam Corolla and my suggestions for the show here.

Also, I am a little baffled that this got ranked #1 on a TopGear USA search in Google. I am not sure how that happened. This blog isn’t really that great, except possibly when I write about TG or Marketing. Anyway, if for some reason you officially want to contact me about what I write here, you can through my other blog here. My stats say that about 50 people a day are looking for TG USA info and come here. I hope that is enough for NBC’s to keep the show on air this fall.

TopGear USA Version 2 with NBC BBC Partnership

According to this news article NBC has contracted with the BBC to produce a USA version of TopGear for network free tv. No estimates on when it would launch but I would guess Fall of 2008. It is sad though that I think they may miss the mark. A lot of funny TopGear stuff is not suitable for US TV let alone would pass the network censors.

Anyway, I did get some hope when I suggested a few months ago that TopGear should hold open auditions for the 3 presenter spots when launching a new show in a new country because you can more accurately find talent that is in touch with what is funny and new with cars. Plus its a huge PR event to get the public involved.

Anyway the TopGear Australian franchise took my advice (or thought of it too) and has open auditions scheduled. Go Aussies! Bring us some Holden goodness.

Another Word of advice: for an unscripted but not a reality show, you need people with a background in Improv and Cars. Or a smart ass who knows cars, or an improv funny guy who knows nothing about cars and gets to be the new captain slow. And these presenters have to have strong opinions about cars for it to clash in a funny way. Who knows. But improv training and quick wit is a big part of the equation. Exploiting your lack of knowledge for comedy can be just as funny as knowing a lot.

So, what I want to know is where do I sign up? You could very easily use a girl in the mix right?

The other part of the successful mix is not chopping it into small pieces with commercials every 5 minutes and not ruining it with dumb stunts like fear factor. I hate fear factor but love TopGear. If you put anything like FF on TG I will hunt you down and hang you by your toenails. It’s supposed to be about humor in car culture and in every day life. Heck, get the Jalopnik guys. They know the cult of cars as good as anyone I know.

My brother just replied to my email I sent alerting him to this and suggested that Jay Leno or Tim Allen host but I really think they need presenters who are unknown and from improv. Jay Leno and Tim Allen are great funny car guys, but they are too attached to other brands and images. And they aren’t a Jeremy Clarkson. Plus how are you going to get through traffic on the 405 with filming big stars anyway? Would either of those guys put on a wet suit and try to windsurf in freezing cold water? And be ok with failing miserably in freezing cold water? You also need unknown people so you don’t attract too much attenton filming in the city as these challenges are happening.

On a side note about the show content, they need to visit all the racing and car history places along the way going cross country as they film different challenges. (think INDY) They go across entire countries in a day on UK TopGear but in the US it would be states instead. At least you don’t need a passport. And we need an American cousin Stig that actually fits in the car this time. Not all Americans are that fat.

Anyway, my lack of time for this post is probably evident in it’s lack of  structure, grammar and spelling, but you get the point: NBC/BBC: Don’t FORK this up!

And my brother just emailed again saying he still wants Tim Allen to host with 2 unknown but funny/smart side kicks. Ok, we can compromise on that, but no denim shirts and grunting this time ok? That’s so 1990’s. Ugh. 

Another idea; Why not Ze Frank? he singlehandedly entertained us on the internet for a year and might be perfect for this kind of non scripted show. Check out the show http://www.zefrank.com/theshow/ and his TED talk from a few years ago if you have a minute. http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/87  I have been wondering what he has been up to and missing his show anyway. Maybe this would be a good opportunity for him. Hey Studio people, give Ze a call!

 Update: The first TopGear USA NBC host has been chosen: Adam Corola.