Since the invention of the automobile, cars and stars have gone together like paparazzi and the Kardashians.

During this season of starlet-adorned award ceremonies, from the Golden Globes through to the Oscars, you will find a lot of car companies all vying to loan out their vehicles to any celebrity with a recognizable face who happens to be heading to a red-carpet award ceremony. There is, however, none so coordinated, consistent and aggressively playing the Fame Game as our friends at Audi.

Since the invention of the automobile, cars and stars have gone together like paparazzi and the Kardashians, so by association getting a celeb behind the wheel of your car brand gives it an instant image boost that must make the car more attractive to buyers. Celebrity tales equals dealership sales. That's the logic, anyway. But surely the millions of dollars spent giving free cars to rich stars is a waste of precious and increasingly smaller marketing budgets. It's time to make the car the star, not the other way around.

Lets be clear, we are not talking about the very obvious dropping of famous faces into big budget ads. That has its place in the marketing toolbox, but in a very media savvy world it's clear most of us get that play-for-pay concept. Today, the use of just a famous name in an ad yields very little influence on whether you or I will buy that car. No, this awards-ceremony loaner deal is a subtler, but higher risk, idea that if you see a "star" with "their" car in "real life" then surely that adds to the car's appeal. We, the audience, are expected to start salivating like Pavlovian puppies in our desire to have same car in our own, less red-carpeted driveway.


Geoff Day has been called the "Pied Piper" of the auto industry, leading auto journalists on wild rides around the globe in his position as former director of communications for Mercedes-Benz USA. Before that, he worked at DaimlerChrysler UK on its PR efforts, and rubbed elbows with the Queen of England in his role at the Buckingham Palace Press Office. His phone is filled with the numbers of the great, the good and the bad. His head is filled with dirty little secrets hiding in many corners of the auto industry.



There is no doubt that the publicity that comes with a well placed story, picture or feature can help raise awareness of a product – Oprah proved that with her "Favorite things" – especially if you are launching a line of wrinkle cream or juice bars. In a world of easily earned and very disposable celebrity, it works on FMCG (fast moving consumer goods), but I have my experience-driven doubts on its power to influence the second-biggest purchase we make in our lives. For brands like Audi, the focus should be paying more attention on polishing up its own image than latching onto someone else's 15 minutes.

The focus should be paying more attention on polishing up its own image than latching onto someone else's fifteen minutes.

So back to the main stage and our big award of the night. Audi seems to have taken the corporate star-loving to new levels of adoration. It has a fleet of A8s based in Hollywood, which it is rumored costs the boys and girls from Ingolstadt, Germany, around $2 million a year to run. Its sole purpose, it seems, is to shuttle any SAG-card-holding personality from glitzy A to glam B. Does this free ride influence the influencers when it comes to their own buying choices? Let me share a little secret tryst of mine as exhibit A in the case for the answer being no.

A few years ago I was on a flight from JFK to LAX and just as the door was about to be closed, on swept an airline-escorted film star, Brooke Shields. As fate would have it she found her pampered posterior on the seat next to mine. Had it not been for the spilling of a beverage (longer story), we wouldn't have shared a syllable let alone her tale of how Audi sends cars for her whenever she needs them – "Audi cabs," she called them. She was delighted at the free car service around town and I was impressed by the good Germans' achievement. Naturally assuming this clearly influenced her car buying decision, I asked her what car she drives herself. "A Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen," she replied.

If only it were as easy as just giving a celeb your car to drive and sales success followed like a Lady Gaga tweet.

If only it were as easy as just giving a celeb your car to drive and sales success followed like a Lady Gaga tweet. Exhibit B in the "No" argument is Justin Bieber's chromed-out Fisker. Lots of press, lots of buzz, but despite all the Biebers' hits, the shapely electric wunderkind car company still ended up in receivers hands, not customers.

Despite the lack of proof showing Kate Upton rubbing herself all over your car bolsters sales, automakers keep on throwing more at those who already have plenty. I'm amazed that, given the obsessive way car companies stalk stars, no one has taken out a restraining order against them in Tinsel Town.

So now that we all agree giving a celeb a car for free is a waste of a good car, how about getting the car into the celeb's workplace? The dollars are bigger to play that game, but then so must be the prizes, yes?

This is a slightly trickier area. I well remember sitting watching Mission Impossible 2, hearing the audience let out a loud groan when the cameras lingered too long on the Bulgari-logoed necklace case in the opening scene, when the sexy cat burglar goes to steal the jewels. On a happier note, however, there where warm cheers from the crowd when James Bond's BMW got sliced in two in The World Is Not Enough. You see, neither was authentic to the story. They were well paid, but not well played in the game of being judged by the company we keep. Simply put, despite the size of your checkbook, we all know the car the world's top spy drives. The name's Martin, Aston Martin. No amount of corporate hubris can change that.

Despite the lack of proof showing whether Kate Upton rubbing herself all over your car bolsters sales, automakers keep on throwing more at those who already have plenty.

Sometimes a car can bring the actor and the character together to good effect. Despite Audi's free ride offer when Robert Downey Jr. tooled up to the red carpet in an R8 Spider, it got good play since Tony Stark carried the ride through in the movie. Believable and genuine. Unlike when Mercedes attempted to join up of the storylines in Sex in the City 3 where it treated the audience like foie gras geese as it stuffed E-Class cabriolets, S-Classes, Maybachs and G-wagons down their throats more than even the more ardent fan could stomach. Groan indeed.

In the end it really doesn't matter which car the star leaves with their award in, or how it carries character from scene one to scene two. What matters is whether the audience remembers the story they were told and if that reflected well on the car – think Grace Kelly in her Mercedes 190 SL, Steve McQueen in his Ford Mustang, even David Hasselhoff in his Pontiac Trans Am. The cars shared equal billing for the star of the show. That's how this business we call show should work, when cars and stars share the same stage.


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  • 38 Comments
      Jake
      • 10 Months Ago
      Well, I for one have always wanted a white Bronco...
      J W
      • 10 Months Ago
      The only time I care about a celebrity and what they drive is if (and only if) they are known as being passionate about cars. Leno, Allen, Seinfeld, Walker, I'm interested in what they drive/drove. I want to know why and what their opinion is. But shoving Shaq or Peyton Manning into a Buick does nothing for me.
      Ioakim Ioakim
      • 10 Months Ago
      Giving or loaning a car to a celebrity is another form of advertising, just like having cars in films. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with that and i don't understand why should anyone be. It is just like having a commercial, you are advertising your Brand or specific model, to make it more popular. If that is anything then i believe it is anything else than bad and probably does more good to the company as well than bad. And at the end of the day as Scooter has said in the comments down below, true enthusiasts and serious car drivers will not pay attention to that, and in the end of the day these people also don't care whether a commercial is successful or not or if it does actually make the car look worth buying. In the end of the day they will search deep many car reviews so see if the things the automakers sell you in their commercials actually apply to the real world which most of the time doesn't apply 100%
      Scooter
      • 10 Months Ago
      If anything it probably generates brand awareness. At the end of the day true enthusiasts will follow professional reviewers and accredited sources for accurate and trustworthy reviews on sports cars. I would never imagine Lady Gaga in an R8 does anything to bolster the cars reputation, if anything its just entertaining to see people who probably don't pump their own gas driving super cars around.
      Andre Neves
      • 10 Months Ago
      How about society as a whole stop glorifying celebs. Corporations and media are dumbing down people with them and hiding the real issues that we should be worrying about.
      Patrick
      • 10 Months Ago
      Surely you jest. Celebrities are a great market to go after. These people need cars to match their need for fancy objects or be seen with fancy objects. Image is everything over there in the thunder dome. But I could see if a marketing strategy is failing that a new one should be adopted. Maybe kidnap the celebrity in the vehicle. At the end of a wild and frantic ride you unveil it was a joke and ask them to rate the ride?
      billrenaud99
      • 10 Months Ago
      We are such an odd society..I dont understand why we idolize stars, atheletes etc...so much They are just human beings, no better than yourself.. most could really care less about you, unless they can make more money off of you someway.. Why dont we learn to love ourselves more and spend our time being good human beings..Life will be better.. With all due respect, why would I care what Hugh Jackman drives or is seen in,,, its no big deal.
      Geoque
      • 10 Months Ago
      Are you sure you are writing for car enthusiasts? Do you think we care about what celebrities ride? I don't give a damn what they ride or if it's theirs!
      GeeDavy
      • 10 Months Ago
      I'm guessing that Geoff Day was paid by the word because any other writer could have summed up his ridiculous diatribe in less space then was allotted for the author's bio.
      Arni Barr
      • 10 Months Ago
      Actually, James Bond's personal car in the novels is the 1954 Bentley Continental R. What a magnificent car! And Bentley is the same company as Audi.
        Jake
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Arni Barr
        And SEAT and Skoda.
        Aurio Salimonne
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Arni Barr
        And thanks to VW is alive,did you ever own or know a person with and old Bentley that don't need 10k on brakes,bad rear struts that leak oil,battery that dies by itself and and AC system design by GM?
      Andrew Berardinelli
      • 10 Months Ago
      If you want to really fix this problem, get rid of TMZ, Hollywood Access, People, and all the other junk that spends time following celebrities and glorifying their everyday lives. And AUDI (in this example) is taking advantage of that. Who cares if the auto enthusiasts see what Hugh Jackman arrives in. It is all about the sheeple who don't know anything but that they want what popular people have. Its the same with athletes and the stuff they wear during interviews. Do you think they paid for those headphones?
      LeeBromley
      • 10 Months Ago
      Audi is the worst. Pushing their products into films and onto red carpets. It shows a massive lack of originality. The moronic #wantanr8 hash tag competition is exactly the same. They're basically offering you a test drive in an R8 and they film it and milk the day on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. And the recipient is clearly not randomly selected. #yawn
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