It’s an age-old problem for brands: Gain popularity along with an individual’s extraordinary talent, then face a lack of independent definition and direction when that talent implodes. The latest powerhouse brand to face this catastrophe is Top Gear.
One statistic clearly demonstrates the challenge facing the BBC and Top Gear:
After the iconic British auto show sacked host Jeremy Clarkson, broadcaster BBC announced a replacement “dream team.”
The only dream for the BBC, if there is one to be had, is that Top Gear hobbles forward. Because it was really more than a show. Thanks to Clarkson and Co., Top Gear grew into an expansive and lucrative brand extension that now faces collapse.
Think of Top Gear like the Livestrong Foundation. Building on Lance Armstrong’s popularity, Livestrong grew from a cancer charity to a product and publishing powerhouse. Likewise, Top Gear grew from a globally popular show about three charismatic blokes who love cars into a globally popular brand of merchandise and media. In 2012, Guinness named it the most watched factual program in the world
There is, of course, a shop (“I Am The Stig” seatbelt belt; $26.98), and Top Gear apps have been downloaded millions of times.
Top Gear Magazine has a circulation in the neighborhood of 150,000, and there is even Top Gear Live, a traveling, live-action motoring theatre show.
Meanwhile, Top Gear is no doubt influential when it comes to car sales although just how much is debated. But would Tesla have still sued Clarkson and Top Gear for libel in 2013 if the show held no great sway?
For initial signs that Top Gear is in deep trouble, look no further than Alexa. The traffic monitoring site ranks TopGear.com as 4,264th most popular site globally. But more importantly, its ranking has fallen nearly 100 percent since early April, when news hit that Clarkson was suspended, reportedly for fighting with a show producer.
Popular Top Gear co-hosts James May and Richard Hammond will also leave the show, though the BBC continues to insist they may return. It’s reported that the replacement “dream team” will include model Jodie Kidd, one time motorcycle racer Guy Martin and actor Philip Glenister.
I didn’t think they could make the thought of watching Top Gear a more grim proposition but HOT DAMN THEYVE DONE IT http://t.co/8JEfXdPnhb
— Jamie Smart (@jamiesmart) May 5, 2015
Making matters worse for the BBC and Top Gear, Clarkson has pledged to start his own new motoring show.
Looking ahead, the BBC might want to borrow a page from Livestrong’s book.
Following Armstrong’s admission that he cheated, Livestrong saw its fundraising drop by more than a third and its 2013 budget was nearly 11 percent lower than the year before. Soon after, in 2013, Livestrong launched a major brand refresh.
But Livestrong is still hobbled by its lack if energy, and it’s no surprise that more than a year after Armstrong left, the organization said it would “welcome him back” under the right circumstances. In fact, in February, Armstrong quietly got back on his bike on Livestrong’s behalf for a Texas event. It was not an official partnership but it could suggest a future reckoning.
It’s an example that might give some hope to Top Gear—and its fans.