It’s rare at McLaren for us to peel back the curtain and gaze at the backstage workings of the team.
Although, that said, we spent six months working with an Amazon Prime film crew to capture our inners secrets – warts and all – and we’ve never been averse to taking the rough with the smooth, as journalists at our Meet The Team race-weekend grilling session will attest.
So, we thought it might be interesting to lift the lid on how we brought our #BeBrave 2018 launch campaign to life; from its formative roots as a simple statement of intent, through its lavish online reveal, to our first laps at a secret Spanish test track and introduction to the world at large.
We’ve already talked about why we named our campaign #BeBrave, but – to recap – it tied in with our history as a risk-taking, hyper-competitive organisation. Throughout McLaren’s history, there are many instances of our being brave – whether that was dipping our toes into the IndyCar world without any prior experience, building the world’s first carbon-fibre racing car, or hiring Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, the two very best drivers in the world, and letting them compete head-to-head against each other.
In 2018, switching to Renault power and then making the decision to commit to a full Papaya Orange heritage-inspired livery both smacked of being brave decisions. And the #BeBrave campaign hashtag was a shortened form of a sentence that really outlined the McLaren ethos: we’re at our best when we’re at our bravest.
It was a perfect fit. And we set about writing and creating the backstory that sits on our website in three beautifully illustrated chapters, each chronicling a separate era of the team’s brave history.
But it was important that #BeBrave wasn’t solely linked to our heritage. It spoke as much for the future as it did the past. And, besides, it formed a solid backbone around which we could tell a story: with the cat already largely out of the bag that we were exploring a Papaya Orange livery for 2018, colour choice couldn’t be the central stem of the campaign, as it had been at the start of ’17, with our #ChangeYourGame launch.
Still, the exact nature of the livery was kept a closely guarded secret – firstly, because, like presents on Christmas morning, the best-kept secrets are always the ones that give the most delight; but also, more prosaically, because the livery was a moving target as new partners and brands came to the table during the off-season.
The launch starts to take off
As we approached Christmas, we began to lock in the separate elements we’d need for the launch: a compelling digital and social campaign that we’d create in-house; a stunning video reveal; an exclusive staff event that would take place two days before the rest of the world would lay eyes on the car; and, finally, an on-track filming day that would allow us to immediately capture footage of the car on track post-reveal, which we could share with our fans, the media and our partners.
Using the #BeBrave banner, we wanted to create something that spoke of bravery. We wanted to create something light, fun, shareable; something you could watch on your phone, with the volume down, and still get the jist of the narrative.
Our decision to kick off our #BeBrave video campaign with our security guard video followed on from last year’s candid, hand-held Spanish Lessons video. We liked the inherent humour in that story, and carried it over, telling the story of a hapless night watchman, and his eye-widening adventure in the bowels of the McLaren factory as three totemic Papaya Orange cars breathed life into the new, as-yet-unseen MCL33.
The shoot took place in early February, and – naturally – concluded late at night, finally wrapping at 3am in sub-zero temperatures as we filmed in the real-life McLaren gatehouse on the MTC campus. We shot a ton of film –including several scenes that, for the sake of brevity, remained on the cutting room floor – but we all immediately liked the flow of the story we were trying to tell. It felt funny, yet serious, and it set up the story for the reveal of the car itself.
Treating our staff to the very first view
At the same time, we began ramping up our exclusive launch event for staff. Last year, we’d held an international media launch in McLaren’s circular Thought Leadership Centre, and we’d then opened the doors to staff for the remainder of the day, inviting them to get up-close and personal with their new baby.
This year, because the car was being filmed late into the evening and then immediately flown to Spain for testing, there wasn’t a natural opportunity to showcase the new car to staff. Still, in the narrow window between the car being completed and it being handed over to the filming and photography crews, we were able to host an intimate launch event on the shop floor in the race bays.
The birth of a new car is always significant, and, even if you’ve watched the build come together over the preceding weeks and months, nothing quite beats the feeling of seeing the final body panel fastened into place and the new car come to life before you.
It was important for everyone who’d been involved to be able to share that moment together. The event was made even more significant when Mansour Ojjeh, one of the McLaren shareholders, stepped up to the microphone to deliver an impromptu, impassioned speech about how important this car was to the whole organisation, and how proud he was of the progress the team had made.
Ready for its close-up
As soon as the staff launch had wrapped up, the car was immediately wheeled into a makeshift studio for the video shoot. You might imagine that the film crew gets plenty of time with a new car, but the deadlines are always so tight, that it’s usually only wheeled before the cameras for a couple of hours.
As usual, our video crew worked frantically, pulling out all the stops to capture a stunning array of shots with the MCL33 positioned under a specially built series of triangular lighting struts. In fact, the time allowed with the MCL33 was so tight, that we even ‘cheated’ some of the shoot, wheeling in a 2017 showcar painted orange for some of the tighter shots.
With the clock ticking, it took a little film-making magic to perfect some of the more dramatic angles. Rain water being blasted off the halo? Created with a hair-dryer! The scene with Fernando Alonso driving through the rain? Achieved by squirting squeezy bottles of water onto Fernando’s helmet visor.
And if you thought Fernando himself was taking the dousing, think again: the McLaren Marketing team stepped in to improvise. Allow us a light sprinkling of showbiz magic, if you will…
With the car shoot wrapping at 10pm, the car was quickly whisked back into the race bays for its official photoshoot. This is a well-rehearsed procedure: we’ve already decided at which angles we need the car photographed, and we quickly roll through the shoot-list before the car gets returned to the mechanics and stripped for its night-time truck ride to the airport for transportation on a light cargo plane down to Spain.
The final countdown
The MCL33 touched down in Bilbao airport on the morning of Thursday February 22nd, prompting much local interest. Indeed, one spy shot leaked online when the car’s cover was blown up by a freak gust of wind on the airport Tarmac, revealing the new Papaya livery beneath. For a moment, it felt as if our cover was blown – but, if anything, that inadvertent leak only served to heighten anticipation for the official reveal the following day.
With the car transported to the Navarra Circuit, the team’s mechanics were under strict instructions to prepare the car with the garage shutters locked down. Despite security precautions around the circuit, photographers with long lenses were lined up around the track perimeter, all keenly pointed at the McLaren garage.
Given an insanely tight turnaround, the first edit for the video arrived on Thursday evening. It required a few tweaks, finally getting sign-off from the comms and digital team at 2:30 in the morning, just a few hours before it was due to go live.
The day of days
By 7am, the freezing Navarra circuit was already bustling with McLaren personnel. With the video, press release and official photos all due to go live at 8am local time, there was one final, frantic hour remaining to line everything up and get it ready to showcase to the rest of the world.
These are usually the most tense and panicky moments of the whole campaign, as fingers hover nervously over ‘send’ buttons, and we make sure all our assets are lined up, error-free, and ready to go.
With one final push, the video went live, and we were finally able to show the world our new, papaya orange grand prix car, the MCL33. The internet lit up – fan reception was hugely positive, with our launch-day video content racking up an incredible 5.2m views in just 24 hours.
With the car wheeled onto the circuit startline, it was time for some (hurried) driver and management photographs in the sub-zero morning temperatures, and then the car was warmed up, ready for its first-ever miles, all captured live by SKY Sports News and SKY Formula 1. With the opening flurry of laps completed, Fernando quickly gave the new car the thumbs-up, looking both happy and relieved in the garage as the team started to run through its busy filming-day schedule.
With that initial online push starting to subside, our social team kicked on, providing rolling coverage throughout the day from the circuit.
As the two-day filming session in Navarra reached its conclusion, MCL33 was packed up and driven down the road to Barcelona. Meanwhile, McLaren’s brand, digital and communications team breathed a sigh of relief as a two-month campaign finally came to a head.
With the final figures in, feedback to the new car had been phenomenal – the full #BeBrave campaign exceeded our 2017 launch by some margin on social media, and the videos were viewed nearly 10 million times. It was a staggering response, and justified the team’s effort to create a compelling, well-structured and meaningful story to explain and embellish the launch of a Formula 1 car.
With the car now circulating on track, this is where the real hard work begins!
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