Fame brings free wheels

2012-03-09 10:17

Using celebrities to sell products is nothing new.

Famous personalities have been using their star power to sell everything from shaving cream to potato chips – and now the local car industry has finally caught up.

With the pinch of the 2008 economic downturn still being felt by the motor industry, most manufacturers have taken the easier – and probably less expensive – route of putting a TV or radio personality behind the wheel.

Sponsored cars are becoming more common these days than underground slam poetry gigs. Around the country, cars seem to be the easiest freebie to acquire, and to dish out.

Radio personalities DJ Fresh and Euphonic can both be seen zipping around the Joburg streets in the latest Mini Cooper S Coupé while Gareth Cliff parked his controversial self inside a VW Scirocco last year.

The popular South African Afro-fusion band Freshlyground are jamming to beats inside the Polo GTIs and The Parlotones, a Joburg-based rock band, are driving a fleet of VW cars too.

Swimming sensation Cameron van der Burg and TV personality Jeannie D have just taken delivery of their brand new Audi A5 models and former Miss SA, Jo-Ann Strauss, is driving around in the A7 Sportback.

Citroën SA’s Sharon Garson says they have a handful of celebrities across the field.

“Azania Ndoro, HHP, Sifiso Nhlapo, Lady Lea and Lulo Café all drive Citroën vehicles for a period of a year,” she says.

Garson says every Citroën SA ambassador has a to-do list they have to fulfil during their contract. “Their progress is monitored on an on-going basis and at the end, that decides whether their contracts will be renewed.

“In essence, they get to drive our cars, but they’re also doing a big job in terms of brand awareness at the same time. They create brand visibility and engage with their fans on social media platforms and ultimately that will lead to the inclination to purchase our brand car when the time comes.”

House music DJ Lulo Café is dreading the month of June as he’ll have to return the black DS3 he is currently driving. “I’ve fallen in love with this car and my perception of the brand has definitely changed. Everyone knows the brand but it didn’t have the best reputation because their after-market service needed serious attention.”

He says being an ambassador means being involved in the carmaker’s campaigns a couple of times a year, engaging with the public about the brand and just being seen in the car.

Volvo South Africa’s Astrid de la Rey says they’ve also tried to spread their personalities across various platforms. “We currently have fashion designer Gert-Johan Coetzee, Dakar Rally racer Alfie Cox and Afro-jazz musician Hugh Masekela as ambassadors.”

Cox has been driving the XC60 R-Design since October. He says he pays for his own petrol and has to travel quite far out all the time. He might be a racing champ, but he’s still a family man and takes it easy on the road.

“My kids call it the rocket car and although it’s fast and sporty, it’s not for me so we’ll be swopping it for a more fuel-efficient diesel model,” he says.

“Being an ambassador for the brand was a natural progression since I raced the replica in Dakar, but since driving it at home, I’ve seen Volvo through a new set of eyes and it’s exciting,” says Cox.

He also says that part of the agreement with the Swedish carmaker means attending events such as golf days and doing motivational talks at least three times a year.

Clearly, being an ambassador doesn’t seem like too much work at all. If you can convince car manufactures that your celebrity status will create a following and offer maximum exposure, you’re bound to drive off in one of their latest products for the whole year.

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