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April 4, 2008

Does the new motor show have the right formula for success?

The British International Motor Show is re-born at ExCeL this week after three years off the international exhibitions calendar.

In the old days, it was Birmingham that played host to this enormous bi-annual fiesta for petrol heads, sporting acres of static shiny metal with barely a UK (let alone international) car launch, or test circuit, in sight. Set in a green field site near Coventry, the heritage and legacy of the great British automotive industry positively echoed within the grey slab walls of the NEC, but eventually so too did that immortal advertising strap line: "Worst of all, it’s a Rover", and soon enough there was no great British automotive industry, or British International Motor Show for that matter, as the jobs and the manufacturers` commercial ambitions headed east, or online.

Maybe there is a link between the employee statistics of the West Midlands automotive sector and the declining attendances seen at the event in its latter days, but one thing was for sure, the loyalty of the manufacturers to what amounted to a mere regional event ebbed, and soon enough the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMM&T) was waving its white flag.

Now, the white knights, in the guise of Tim Etchells and Rob MacKenzie (aka IMIE Ltd) attempt the bold rescue of an automotive bellweather with optimists and sceptics alike waiting in the wings to indulge their respective forecasts of success or failure.

Whilst ER is praying that the incongruous link between night-time rock concerts and daytime car showrooms/experiences will go unnoticed by the less enthusiastic manufacturers, our belief remains that the IMIE team, like the recent Grand Designs Live team, has understood that a refreshing experiential approach offers the best chance of attracting the relevant consumers.

The big issue, though, will be just what constitutes success in the eyes of the key stakeholders: the manufacturers and the buying public.

The combination of Etchells and MacKenzie’s consumer experience with former Emap communications boss, Kevin Murphy, now at ExCeL, plus access to the lucrative London market, plus a new venue with a successful consumer event relocation record, not to mention a set of attractions to fit the demographics of the buying public – not just the petrol heads (although they’ll surely love the Paddock) – suggest things are looking good. One visit to the website (www.britishmotorshow.co.uk ) indicates they have succeeded in profiling the content of their live experience with middle-England upwards – more Jules Holland than Lamar, and more hands-on than window dressing.

However, there`s one target left to achieve. It’s 500,000 – understood by insiders to be the 'magic' audience figures required to satisfy manufacturers and commentators alike. While they may indeed succeed in hitting the target, I suspect that the reality of this barometer is a tough call. Let’s also hope that the barometer of success isn’t the instrument of destruction of what will be a great British occasion and live marketing opportunity for vendors from 2007 onwards.

We must be alert to the fact that audiences are not mere statistics, and that while size counts, it must be coupled with quality.

The British International Motor Show runs at ExCeL, London, from 20-30 July.

For marketing opportunities contact Giles Brown, commercial director, IMIE on [email protected] or +44 (0) 20 7654 0616.

EVENTS:review will bring its report to you as soon as the show finishes.

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