THE BLOG

Has 'Top Gear' Just Pulled Off the PR Stunt of the Year?

16/03/2016 19:38 GMT | Updated 16/03/2017 09:12 GMT

There has been much hysteria over Top Gear's latest 'offensive' bit of filming. In case you missed it, over the weekend Matt LeBlanc (yep the guy from Friends) and a co-driver - presumably the new stig - performed doughnuts around the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

The film footage and noise generated around the filming has made it all sound rather audacious. Opponents have denounced the images as 'terrible' and 'disrespectful'. Col Richard Kemp, former commander of UK forces in Afghanistan, said of the scenes: "It's worse than doing a stunt in a cemetery and screaming round people's graves. It's a shocking desecration of one of our most sacred sites. The BBC should apologise." MPs are equally up in arms.

This reaction, driven (pardon the pun) largely by The Sun - FRONT PAGE! - has generated an almighty media-backlash, including wall-to-wall coverage across much of the print, online and broadcast news.

Even the Chancellor George Osborne has a view. Preparing for tomorrow's Budget from within in the Treasury - which is just at the end of Whitehall - he tweeted:

"Trying to write my Budget,despite noisy episode of @BBC_TopGear being filmed outside on Horseguards Parade. Keep it down please @achrisevans"

Chris Evans was wheeled out to explain how 'mortified' he and his crew were over the reaction and apologised on his Radio 2 show unreservedly for any offense. Senior executives at the Beeb even pulled out the full details of discussions with the Metropolitan Police film unit and the special events unit of Westminster City Council over the "large-scale, complex shoot, prepared over a period of four months".

So far. So bad. And yet, surely this was all a brilliantly executed PR stunt?

It is no secret that Jeremy Clarkson's departure from the team has left the programme needing to find its cutting edge. The BBC would never admit it but its biggest grossing programme became so successful because of the ridiculous issues its presenters got it into. Bad news is really good publicity. Honest.

Working at a corporate communication agency we are always trying to come up with ingenious ways to grab the headlines and generate noise for the brands we work with. People call it 'disruptive'. How to take an issue and make people stop, think, share and talk about it. Before the weekend I bet very few people were that excited about the new series of Top Gear. This latest stunt might have changed a quite few people's minds.

Judged on all these measures, the Top Gear PR department should take the rest of the year off. Take a bow. It was very impressive.