'Rolls-Royce only embraces new technology where it enhances the overall experience.' Reassuring words delivered calmly but assuredly in Germanic English by Jörg Bause, director of manufacturing for the Goodwood-based prestige car manufacturer.
Somewhat surprisingly this wasn’t a crowd pleasing-speech designed to rouse an audience of loyal clientele, but rather to a small congregation of seasoned Southern journalists, television news reporters and... bloggers?
A car launch free from professional motoring writers? Surely not...
For a marque as steeped in tradition as Rolls-Royce, the notion of it embracing the chattering Twitterati as a means of conveying its message sounds as incongruous as discovering your grandmother’s just uploaded a video clip of herself pulling off some sick parkour moves to YouTube via her iPad. The reality is that it was a shrewd manoeuvre for the pinnacle of the motoring hierarchy, acting as a pilot event for the whole BMW empire.
The event itself was a simultaneous unveiling of the subtly tweaked Phantom Series II: whilst the eager throng at the British headquarters observed the silk wrapping being peeled away from what is to become the centrepiece of Rolls-Royce’s Beijing motor show stand, a thousand kilometres away in Geneva, another Series II saloon was revealed to a larger crown of experienced motoring journalists.
Inviting enthusiastic amateurs and wannabe car scribes wasn’t a hollow concession as a favour to a select band of online scribblers who had happened to blog about Rolls in a positive light either. This was a genuine attempt to connect with a potentially powerful new outlet and measure its success.
Presumably there was a ‘look but don’t you dare touch’ policy?
Upon arrival, in addition to an appreciated flute of champagne, business cards were slipped into hands bearing the legend #PhantomSeriesII, the all-important hashtag to determine the tweet-reach of the 140 character musings and enthusings of the day.
Following Herr Bause’s dust sheet removal and positive encouragement from corporate communications manager Andrew Ball to explore the black Extended Wheelbase model before us, the process was simple: sit, touch, photograph, attach and tweet.
You would be forgiven for assuming that faced with the prospect of an eager swarm poring all over just the second example off the line of the Series II Phantom, Rolls-Royce staff would be wearing pained expressions and doing their utmost to hide their nerves. Not a bit of it. Smiles of encouragement, supported by queries of 'have you seen what this does?' ensured that every polished fillet of walnut, chromed lever, leather-enveloped surface and electrically-assisted feature was sampled and reported almost instantaneously on Twitter, much to the chagrin of dextrous thumbs and iPhone batteries struggling to cope with the volume of messages over a half hour burst.
Within minutes, the small group of bloggers had beamed into the timelines of over 25,000 tweeters, whereas the Rolls-Royce news from Geneva was considerably quieter by comparison; the shine of the Phantom’s launch in Switzerland vying for online attention from a wealth of other global debutants.
Maybe Herr Bause is onto something...