WEDNESDAY 8 MAR 2017 4:34 PM


Jaguar Racing appoints the Gorillaz’ guitarist, Noodle, as its brand ambassador as it competes in the Formula E circuit. Hassan Butt examines the new collaboration through video

British motor specialist, Jaguar, spent the 1990s under the ownership of the Ford Motor Company before making its first entry into the 2000 Australian Grand Prix with a star-studded team, armed to the teeth with Formula 1 hall-of-famers Eddie Irvine, Johnny Herbert and Niki Lauda. But as Jaguar Racing anticipated bountiful success, its trajectory dwindled into a winless four seasons of disappointment. Now, after being sold to Tata Motors in 2008 and marking its re-entry into racing by joining the burgeoning Formula E circuit, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has appointed the Gorillaz’ Noodle as the global brand ambassador for Jaguar Racing.

Hailing from Britpop mainstay Blur’s former frontman, Damon Albarn, and renowned British comic book artist, Jamie Hewlett, the enigmatic eminence of virtual band Gorillaz typified the musical experimentalism of the new millennium. Conceptually, the band’s mystery, punctuated by Albarn’s baritone vocals and wide musical reach, is matched by Hewlett’s anarchic style, one that earned him London Design Museum’s 2006 ‘Designer of the Year’ award. The animated quartet, comprised of lead vocalist 2-D, racoon-eyed bassist Murdoc Niccals, Brooklyn-born drummer Russel Hobbs and eccentric eight-year-old Japanese guitarist Noodle, first appeared in 1998 and quickly rose to mainstream success with their eponymous debut album in 2001.

In a push to promote the Formula E championship as a platform for both the development of electric powered cars and the next generation of engineers, an introductory video supporting a campaign entitled ‘Race to Innovate,’ directed by Hewlett himself, showcases Noodle’s expertise on the track. Taking place in a ‘Jaguar Secret Test Facility,’ the video begins with the trappings of mischief. A silhouetted cut out of a body tells of galvanised electric fences being no obstacle for a subversive, slender-shaped renegade. Next, the figure sits boldly on the starting grid. The new I-Type, powered with Panasonic technology and packing 200kw of voltaic energy can reach speeds of up to 140mph, accelerating from 0 to 60 in 2.9 seconds.

Yet as a group of Jaguar Racing engineers process the lap times of current Formula E drivers, Mitch Evans, Ho Pin Tung and Adam Carroll, the prized I-Type remains unguarded. Bolting out of the pit, brazen-faced with a psychedelic, Cheshire Cat-like smile, Noodle’s opening lap is far from a warm-up. Slipstreaming corners and blazing an electric trail, the I-Type’s sleek chassis cuts its path through the circuit in record-breaking time. Floating, first-person sequences combine labyrinthine turns with Jaguar Racing’s pioneering design, and after solidifying pole position in her whirlwind victory lap, Noodle’s comments evoke the lawless traits of her musical vocation.


“Lovely runner, needs a bit more front wing, understeers a bit in the fast!” Noodle says confidently in her native Japanese tongue, only to retort in English, “Wouldn’t you agree?!” Her self-assured words are greeted by a bewildered Jaguar Racing team, to which 25-year-old performance engineer, Charanya Ravi, responds with a modest smile. Laura Wood, head of global PR, brand and partnerships at JLR, says of Noodle, “She’s savvy, she doesn’t follow the rules, she takes risks and does things differently. Those are all characteristics that match with what we’re doing. But as well as this, the ‘Race to Innovate’ tagline allows us to showcase opportunities within the industry, and shed light on the skills gap. To connect with a younger audience, we needed to be where they were in the cultural space, rather than expecting them to come to us.”

With JLR’s campaign aiming to raise awareness of electric vehicle technology, well-trained engineers form a major part of product progression. As a leading investor in R&D, JLR’s understanding of engineering’s hermetic tradition hope to take on new life with Noodle’s creative guidance. In efforts to bring Noodle to life and promote innovation, the character is given a platform to voice JLR’s desired message, “The young minds of today are the engineers of tomorrow. We are in the driving seat and our imaginations are the fuel. It’s time to lead the charge and build a better world!”

Illustrating this further, the film is supported by a longer conversation between Noodle and Ravi. Discussing their polarised origins, from rollercoaster zombie battlegrounds and rebel music, to humble upbringings in Chennai, India, the pair expand on their true interests. To showcase a much wider introspection, JLR appointed writer Craig McLean to create the tailpiece, adding the backstories of two young, creative and imaginative individuals and how their journeys inform their chosen paths.

Yet as the video balances the dissenting, anarchic makeup of the Gorillaz’ star with the fast-paced energy of Formula E, the campaign allows for Noodle’s energy to be channelled through with educational value. For JLR, the choice to appoint Noodle as global brand ambassador allows for her character to remain malleable and continually promote the project in different ways, “Jamie [Hewlett] wouldn’t speak on her behalf, it’s her voice that comes through,” says Wood. With the position of brand ambassador carrying with it the risk of misrepresenting a company message, JLR’s ‘Race to Innovate’ upholds the values of the organisation in line with the creative allure of the animated singer.

As well as marking a new opportunity for JLR, the Formula E circuit presents a new space for competing automotive brands to showcase developments ranging from engineering to marketing. Understanding this, JLR’s approach to Formula E takes a step away from the corporate space, allowing the video to bring to the forefront a message that pushes forward its pledge to innovate. Aligning this with its audience, JLR’s creative direction embarks upon new territory for the organisation. Yet the challenge of balancing new surroundings with its newfound animated brand leadership will require JLR to continuously delve into this creative space whilst cultivating a winning culture.

The film’s final snapshot holds Noodle triumphantly posing atop a jaguar, bestriding the animated cat with her ever-present confidence, punctuating the self- effacing nature of the campaign. Yet as projected new music sets up further developments to the Gorillaz brand name, JLR’s task of not allowing its own name to be diluted by partnerships and sponsors is imperative. As the championship continues its trajectory into 2017, whether Noodle’s involvement throughout the project flourishes or falters relies on whether JLR can translate its commitment to innovation into wider Formula E success.




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