How do you create a new brand with almost instant credibility? Easy, you use an existing successful brand to support yours and I am not talking about copyright infringement or passing off another brand as your own. I call it brand association and when used correctly, brand association benefits both brands. It works well if the supporting brand is highly visual in its product offering, for example supercars and success for the supporting brand could outstrip your brand’s success, a win-win situation for all.
Magnum, P.I. and the legend of the Ferrari 308 GT
Magnum, P.I. starring Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum, a private investigator living in Hawaii, was one of the highest-rated shows on television in the United States. According to the Nielsen Ratings, the series that ran from 1980 to 1988, consistently ranked in the top 20 United States television programmes during the first five years it was broadcast. Selleck and co-star John Hillerman (Higgins) also won Emmys for their respective roles.
In this series, Thomas Magnum lives a dream lifestyle: he comes and goes as he pleases, works only when he wants to, has the almost unlimited use of a Ferrari 308 GT and the guest house on a posh beachfront estate, courtesy of his host Robin Masters. He keeps a mini-fridge with an endless supply of beer, is surrounded by countless beautiful women and enjoys adventures with his two buddies, both former United States Marines who served with him in the Vietnam War.
It was against this background and in this idyllic setting that Magnum, P.I. helped create the legend of the Ferrari 308 GT. His lifestyle was the role model for every red-blooded male – bachelors, unmarried and married men alike – in the 1980s dreaming of one day owning a Ferrari. The fact that the Ferrari 308 GT was very small and really meant for your average-size Italian was something the would-be owner only found out when wanting to test drive it, at about the same time that the admiring female partner discovers the glove compartment is really a disguise for the fuse box. This explains why Tom Selleck with his six-foot something frame was only ever seen in the Ferrari sans the hardtop and when it was not raining.
This did not stop the Ferrari 308 GT from becoming a legend, with a resulting inflated price and the basis of what would become one of the most sought-after supercars and most popular merchandised brands in the world. The legend was further perpetuated by Miami Vice, the American television series produced by Michael Mann for NBC. The show is recognised as one of the most influential television series of all time. It drew on the 1980s New Wave culture and music, and became noted for its heavy integration of music and visual effects to tell a story. The series ran for five seasons and starred Don Johnson as Crockett and Phillip Michael Thomas as Tubbs, two Metro-Dade Police detectives working undercover in Miami.
How vice in Miami made Italy’s prancing horse famous.
People magazine stated that Miami Vice “was the first show to look really new and different since colour TV was invented”. In an iconic scene from Miami Vice, Crockett and Tubbs drive through Miami at night to Phil Collins’ hit song “In the Air Tonight” in a white Ferrari Testarossa, one of the two automobiles that became noteworthy during Miami Vice; the other being a Ferrari Daytona. As a matter of fact, the Testarossa in the series was not a Ferrari, but a kit replica based on a 1980 Chevrolet Corvette C3 chassis fitted with Ferrari-shaped body panels by the speciality car manufacturer McBurnie. Enzo Ferrari filed a lawsuit demanding that McBurnie cease to produce and sell Ferrari replicas. As a result, after the third season the replica was blown to pieces, and the fake Ferraris were removed from the show. As a result, Enzo Ferrari donated two brand-new 1986 Testarossas as replacements.
The prancing horse really took off when Michael Schumacher got into the saddle in 1996 with consequent sales from an internally managed merchandising line that licenses many products bearing the Ferrari brand, including eyewear, pens, pencils, electronic goods, perfume, clothing, high-tech bicycles, watches, cellphones, and even laptop computers, outstripping the revenue from Ferrari’s total motor vehicle sales. Shell has a long-standing technical partnership with Ferrari and Ducati to test as well as supply fuel and oils to the Formula One, MotoGP and World Superbike racing teams. The Shell V-Power premium gasoline fuel has been developed as a result of the many years of technical expertise shared between Shell and Ferrari.
Start of the bull run
Another notable supercar that appeared in Miami Vice, in stark contrast to Crockett’s white Ferrari (the white knight?), was a black Lamborghini Countach driven by a drug-dealer baddy. This also contributed to creating another supercar icon. The 1981 slapstick comedy movie, Cannonball Run, starring Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Dom DeLuise and Farrah Fawcett, was based on the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, an actual cross-country outlaw road race from the Red Ball Garage in New York City (later Darien, CT) to the pier at Redondo Beach, California, just south of Los Angeles, organised by automotive journalists and the movie’s screenwriter, Brock Yates.
Some of the more interesting aspects of the movie that were based on real life include the all-female entry of Jill Rivers (Tara Buckman) and Marcie Thatcher (Adrienne Barbeau), two knockout women starting the race in a black Lamborghini Countach, who eventually end up winning.
The Lamborghini Countach is a mid-engined supercar produced from 1974 to 1989 in an era before wind tunnels and ABS brakes, power steering and fuel injection. The Countach’s design both pioneered and popularised the wedge-shaped, sharply angled look copied by many high-performance sports cars. The cabin-forward design concept, which pushes the passenger compartment forward in order to accommodate a larger engine, was also popularised by the Countach.
In 2004, Sports Car International named this car number three on the list of Top Sports Cars of the 1970s, and it was listed as number 10 on their list of Top Sports Cars of the 1980s. The Countach’s styling and visual impression made it an icon of great design and is today considered a masterpiece of automotive sculpture. During the 1970s and 1980s, this car was every schoolboy’s dream and it was not uncommon to find a Countach poster next to (or even sometimes instead of) a pin-up of Farrah Fawcett on their bedroom walls.
The superior performance characteristics of later Lamborghini models (such as the Diablo, or the Murciélago) appealed to performance car drivers and engineers, but they never had the originality or outrageousness that gave the Countach its distinction. The different impressions left by the various Lamborghini models have generated many debates and disagreements over what constitutes classic or great automotive design.
Alexander Greyling is the Author of Face your brand! The visual language of branding explained and is one of South Africa’s top branding experts. In his eBook he provides indispensable facts and logic for creating a successful visual brandmark through his seven essential elements of a successful brandmark.
Greyling conveys his unrivaled knowledge with candour and humour in a concise fashion in his easy-to-read eBook aimed at a diverse spectrum of readers. For the budget-conscious, his book offers amazing value for money. The price of Face your brand! is less than half-an-hour of a professional designer’s time and takes only a few minutes to download.