Atlas F1 Rory's Rambling

An Occasional Column from the Antipodes

  by Rory Gordon, Australia

I think adverts (commercials, advertisements, whatever) are fascinating things.

There are many different sorts of adverts; there are the glossy ones on the TV, the pieces of paper that get dumped in your letter box, the ones that take an entire page in the newspaper, the classifieds that each take a tiny part of the page in newspapers, the billboards, and that's just some of the visual ones. Add into that the adverts we see on the sides of racing cars.

In particular, what I'm talking about are adverts that try to sell things on TV. To me, there are good adverts and entertaining adverts, many are neither, and a very few are both.

If you asked me to write a good advert, I'd be totally lost. But I do feel that a "good" advert is one that, for whatever reason, puts the product into my mind. An "entertaining" advert, on the other hand, virtually forces me to sit and look at it, because it tells a story, or there is something in it that I think is clever. It's very difficult to give examples, because adverts tend to be limited to national boundaries.

I do know that I enjoy looking through foreign newspapers and at foreign TV, seeing all the adverts. I might point out here that I can stumble through an F1 press release that's written in simple French and get the idea of what it's about, but any other language is beyond me, so foreign language adverts that stick in my mind must, by definition, be good adverts.

There is, however, one thing that can grab me quickly and be almost instantly recognisable - the logo. Just about everywhere I've been in the world I've seen the "blue oval", the "golden arches" and the "ribbon device" trademarks of Ford, McDonalds and Coca-Cola respectively. Not only are they seemingly everywhere, but they've been built up and up so that they are recognisable. In those cases, just the trademarks are a good advert in themselves.

I suppose that's part of what makes a good advert, a clear symbol that the potential customer immediately identifies with the company.

And another thing that makes that connection is a slogan. "It's Mac time" and "The real thing" should, I hope, instantly connect in your minds with, again, McDonalds and Coca-Cola.

There are some products emblazoned on F1 cars that I've never heard of, nor seen on the shelves of my local supermarket. But that's hardly a great surprise as many of the smaller adverts on the cars are for companies that supply the team. And many of those products are just regional products.

And while I wouldn't say that F1 adverts are the sole reason, I will admit that I smoke Marlboro cigarettes, I used to use a Motorola cellular phone, I drive a Ford car, I tend to use Mobil fuel, and so on. By and large, when my choice comes down to two products and they're roughly equal on price and features, I'll generally select the one that is involved in motor racing rather than the one that isn't.

If you've been reading these columns for a while, you'll know that I'm a TV-addict and, whenever I can, I watch the IndyCar/CART/ChampCar series. (Before IRL fans jump down my throat, I should tell you that televised oval and drag racing do absolutely nothing for me. Live is one thing, TV is totally another. Besides which, in Australia the IRL is sometimes on cable TV, while CART is always on free-to-air.)

Many of the products on the cars in that series, even the major sponsors, are unknown to me. But I'm looking forward to tasting Tecate and Miller beers, using LCI, shopping at Food4Less, and so on.

But there's one slogan in IndyCar/CART (and which I haven't yet seen in F1) that escapes me completely - "No Fear."

Frankly, I'm amazed that a racing driver would be associated with something like this. Whatever we may say or do, it's basically fear that drives (or stops) us. If we had "no fear" then we wouldn't worry about stepping out in front of a fully-loaded truck; we wouldn't worry about stepping off the top of a cliff; we wouldn't worry about driving straight through a red light.

If a driver had "no fear", then surely they wouldn't even blink at stepping into a car that they knew to be unsafe, to drive on a circuit that they know to be unsafe. Helmets? Who needs them?!

No, sorry, but that product (whatever it actually is) is one that I think just doesn't belong in a sport where fear plays a major part. Because to me, it's fear that - when we come down to it - that guides our every step through life.

It's fear that stops us doing things. Some of us have a fear "threshold" that is below the average. Personally, I'm a coward and my fear threshold is not only below average, but is at the absolute bottom. Pain - emotional, mental or physical? Forget it! Show me a needle and I'm on my way out of the room.

But every day I take some really silly decisions. Trusting other drivers in their cars within 500 metres of me is crazy. I'm fine - it's all the other people out there that I don't trust. Who knows which one, or more, of them is drunk?

And, thinking about it, that little manoeuvre where I switch from the slower lane into a faster lane of traffic is fraught with the possibility of having a very nasty accident.

Fear is not something you can just dismiss. So it seems to me that there ought to be a little discretion about advertisers in motor racing. And that's a funny thing. Listening to the CART coverage, I rarely hear mention of "Marlboro Penske." I hear about "Penske", but that other word seems to be missing.

Censorship, even on a voluntary basis, in advertising?

If it's good enough for some products, why isn't it good enough for others?

But that's just me.

Rory Gordon© 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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