CAMPAIGNS: Amphibious car fires the imagination - Product Launch

Client: Gibbs Technologies PR Team: Harvard Public Relations/Bell Pottinger Communications Campaign: Launch of High-Speed Amphibian technology Timescale: September 2003 Budget: Undisclosed

It is something that you would normally only come across in a science-fiction book or a James Bond film. But the Gibbs Aquada amphibian car represents a breakthrough in UK engineering by using new High-Speed Amphibian (HSA) technology.

The Midlands-based engineering firm incorporated its new technology into a car to demonstrate the technology's potential and, as a by-product, launched the car to the global news media.

Gibbs, which employs Harvard Public Relations and Bell Pottinger Communications on a retainer, called on them to launch the new technology at a dramatic press event in London's Docklands.

Objectives

To use the media launch as a platform from which to generate international media interest, brand awareness and targeted news coverage. To generate in-depth technical articles across lifestyle and specialist press through post-launch 'experience days'.

Strategy and Plan

While the PR team was aware the launch of an amphibious car would generate coverage globally, Gibbs's brief was to ensure the coverage also focused on the technology.

Gibbs needed to demonstrate that its HSA concept worked and so first had to produce a prototype of a vehicle that could travel on water. The company's main aim was to license the technology to major car manufacturers and military engineering firms.

Gibbs's target audience ranged from automotive engineers, who might look to license HSA technology, to wealthy middle-aged individuals looking for the ultimate driving experience. With this brief, it was essential that coverage was achieved in a wide variety of media.

The launch itself was a full technical press briefing followed by an eye-catching workout of the Gibbs Aquada on the River Thames.

Time was allocated afterwards for one-to-one press briefings and radio interviews with the Gibbs management team.

An electronic press release was distributed to all international media, with VNRs for broadcasters. This captured TV news interest and meant the post-launch interview plan could be mapped out.

Following the launch, the agency organised a number of more intimate 'experience days', where selected members of the media were invited to Gibbs's production facilities and private lake to test the car and gain a better insight into the company, the technology and the vehicle.

Measurement and Evaluation

More than 200 pieces of broadcast coverage have been achieved worldwide.

In the UK, coverage appeared on BBC1 News, Sky News and BBC News 24, ITN News, CNN, GMTV and RI:SE.

Press coverage first appeared in the Evening Standard on launch day and followed in every national newspaper the next, with full-page articles in The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express.

More than 50 regional UK publications also covered the launch, attended by more than 100 journalists. Technology features have been published in motoring, engineering and marine magazines, as well as on websites.

Internationally, substantial coverage has been achieved in China, the US, Australia, Germany and Hong Kong.

BBC News transport producer Simon Ward said he was not surprised at the level of international media interest. 'Our bulletins are always interested in new car launches. For the one o'clock and six o'clock bulletins we focused on the consumer 'wow' angle, although we did include a mention of the technology, but the ten o'clock bulletin likes to move stories along and so we focused on the technology.'

He added that Gibbs declined to allow the broadcaster into its factory because this might give away technological secrets. Instead, Gibbs gave BBC News a VNR, which it went on to show exclusively as the 'first footage inside the Gibbs factory'.

Results

Gibbs's first production run will create 100 Gibbs Aquadas by the end of this year, yet demand is already exceeding supply, with thousands of enquiries already logged.

Most of the media coverage highlighted the importance of Gibbs's HSA technology.

New Scientist technology news editor Paul Marks claims the PR team helped meet the publication's early deadlines by providing early access to the inventors of the Aquada.

Freelance motoring journalist Euan Sey expected it to be a big news story.

'It was the biggest press event I have been to this year,' he said. 'Launches of new cars come and go, but a car that can travel on water at 35mph will capture people's imagination. It has that slightly wacky inventor's angle.'

He also pointed to the VNR being central to the story's success. 'I think the visual aspect of it stopped people in their tracks. The PR agency seemed to have all the bases covered.'

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