On hearing that Victoria Beckham (aka Posh Spice) had become Range Rover's Creative Design Executive last week, initial reaction was to check the date – was it April 1st? Apparently Land Rover wasn't fooling anybody, instead sending shockwaves through the automotive industry with the announcement, made at the unveiling of the Evoque at Kensington Palace, London.
Celebrity brand tie-ups are nothing new – Justin Timberlake is currently the Audi A1's brand ambassador – yet the implication is that Beckham's involvement with Range Rover will go much further. No one believes Beckham will be wielding a Copic in anger anytime soon, yet she will apparently be spending 20 days at the design studio each year, helping the design team understand what a new type of Range Rover customer wants and potentially working on a series of special interior-focused projects.
It's easy to dismiss the move as a marketing and PR stunt; as an exercise in generating column inches around a new car its like is unequalled, "Victoria Becomes Car Designer" and "Victoria Reinvents 4-wheel Drives" just two choice headlines among many of the UK's newspapers last week. However, CDN has canvassed the opinions of many people since the announcement including auto and fashion designers, a former fashion editor of Vogue magazine and branding experts. A sizeable number are genuinely upset and concerned by the move. They suggest it devalues the efforts of existing color and trim teams and automotive design as a profession in general.
"To wear things properly and be seen as fashionable doesn't make you a good designer," suggested our fashion industry source. "[Beckham] has a good connection to fashion people, but to have a proper input you have to understand materials, processes and the supplier chain. Does she have time to do this for cars?" A former Vogue fashion editor added: "The problem is that marketing people think celebrities have a direct influence on customer taste. In fashion more than anywhere elsewhere, this is true. Yet I doubt this to be the case in the car world."
The risk of alienating Range Rover's historically very loyal customer base is another concern. "Range Rover used to be about driving to the country pile at 100mph, going out on the land shooting pheasants before riding back up to London in time for Monday," suggested one brand strategist. "It has always been an elitist brand, but there was also an important degree of mystique. With the Beckham brand there is no mystique, its just unashamed, balls-out richness. Fundamentally, Posh isn't that posh."
The tie-up with Beckham is illustrative of the brand's priority in chasing a new younger, female customer. Many designers we spoke to applaud the move by Land Rover toward smaller, lighter vehicles such as the Evoque. Their objections center on the arrival of Beckham at a time when the memory of the recently deceased Spen King is still fresh in the mind, many suggesting it is indicative of a brand deserting its discrete, regal and often pioneering heritage.