In the later hours of Tuesday evening, 5FM DJ Gareth Cliff was arrested and charged with speeding and reckless driving on R21 highway near Pretoria. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to even tell you about this, given the fact that this relatively minor incident exploded as a scandal-bomb on social networks Facebook and Twitter soon after it all went down. As one can expect from the interwebs, responses came thick and fast, with everything from calls for Cliff to be thrown into prison (along with all the wonderful experiences that could potentially come as a result), to suggestions that he should have been driving faster than the 182km/h that he was caught speeding at.
However, besides throwing out ridiculous comebacks like these, there is something else that these social networks have proven to be very good at: assigning blame.
The natural target in this situation is obviously Cliff himself, but that doesn’t mean that other parties won’t catch some negative PR – parties like Land Rover, the manufacturer of the Range Rover Evoque that Cliff was driving at the time. Now, it’s hardly a new thought that car manufacturers shouldn’t be allowed to make cars that can exceed South Africa’s maximum speed limits (its also a lame opinion, if you ask me), but its an argument that hardly ever fails to raise its pathetically underdeveloped head when speeding stories appear in the news.
While the more reflective among us may point to the driver as the problem, not the vehicle, it’s still an accusation that has the potential to damage a brand’s image – and in a market as competitive as vehicle sales, that’s not something that a manufacturer can afford to let slide.
That’s why Land Rover and its creative agency Y&R came up with a clever tactical bumper sticker on Wednesday (not too shabby, time-wise, given the fact that the story only gained momentum on Wednesday morning), which essentially distances the company from the controversy. It simply reads, “Keep calm and slow down Gareth”, which (ever-so-subtly and quite rightly) points to driver error as being at the crux of the whole palaver, as well as cleverly playing off of the ‘Keep Calm and … ’ meme, which has been doing the online rounds for ages and has its roots in a poster produced by the Brits during WWII to raise morale among the population. This offering may just make Land Rover one of Twitter’s cool kids.
So props to Y&R and Land Rover for this one – but beware the potential social media backfire that many brands have fallen victim to. At least one Twitter user has put forth the idea that the entire affair was just a marketing ploy by the brand, and while I think the idea is laughable, the Twitter trolls are always game for a little bit of conspiracy theory. Then again, said user’s “name” is ‘FartQueen’. I wouldn’t be shaking in my boots if I was Land Rover.