Today on AutoInfluence, we discuss an unexpected case of automotive cross-marketing.
While there’s no shortage of actual automotive headlines in any sampling of current auto news, one of the more stand-out headlines of the past year had less to do with the cars themselves, and more to do with the dealerships that sell them. Or at least one dealership, in particular. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
In today’s TMZ-fixated culture, it becomes all-too easy to associate even the most iconic brands with the celebrities who serve as their brand ambassadors. Consider the visage of Matthew McConaghy highlighted by passing streetlights as he waxes philosophic about the surrealistic validation of driving a Lincoln. Or debates over Mila Kunis, and whether she’s actually a bourbon enthusiast, or just someone who looks good walking in slow-motion between exploding CGI whiskey barrels.
That said, these sort of endorsement contracts are little more than paid gigs, providing supplemental income in between film and TV projects. Some celebrities earn legitimate entrepreneur credibility from companies they’ve founded, like Paul Newman’s salad dressing empire, Jessica Alba’s Honest Company, or George Clooney’s Casamigos Tequila.
On the other hand, many celebrities double as venture capitalists, investing in everything from tech startups to high-concept dining experiences. Ashton Kutcher, for example, was an early investor in Skype prior to its $8.6 billion acquisition by Microsoft. 90’s rap sensation MC Hammer was an early overseer of Pandora’s executive operations, back when it was known by its former name Savage Beast. These are just two examples of unions formed between Hollywood celebrities and Silicon Valley giants and, based on proximity alone, it’s easy to see why there are so many other examples out there.
But some examples of celebrity incorporation feel less organic. Take the partnership between Hollywood A-Lister Mark Wahlberg, and a veteran car dealer from metropolitan Detroit, to acquire a single Columbus, OH Chevy dealership which now bears the name ‘Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet’. Call us crazy, but with Wahlberg’s ties to Massachusetts, we might have been less surprised if the start-ups were based out of the Bay State akin to John Elway’s handful of Colorado-based dealerships. But Columbus? Cowtown? Not exactly a peak destination…which begs the question, “Why?”
In a formal statement, Wahlberg claimed to be (quote) “continuously looking for ways to innovate my brand and engage in businesses I am passionate about. I love cars and the chance to work with an experienced, proven dealer-operator to represent an iconic brand like Chevrolet inspired me to get involved.” Perhaps, the neutrality of Columbus provided a lower-pressure opportunity for him to try on the new venture for size.
And, understanding that there are plans to open further dealerships, who’s to say that Mark Wahlberg won’t become a regional, or even coast-to-coast presence in the automotive marketplace? If nothing else, it stands as one of the more unique attempts at income supplementation. But while a tech company offers services built around our ever-evolving lifestyles, fine-dining provides a sensory experience and flavorful spirits accommodate our vices, one feels awkward associating a used Chevy Spark with the man-child who plays straight man to a CGI teddy bear?
What will inevitably prove interesting is whether or not Wahlberg’s play will inspire other profit-centric celebrities to follow suit. Is the automotive industry the next huge target for diversifying one’s wealth? If you’re purchasing your next car from Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet, what’s stopping you from buying from Kevin Hart Hyundai, Robert Downey Jr. Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, Post Malone Mazda or Khloe Kardashian KIA? These might sound like longshot scenarios but the simple truth is that the die is cast. Only time will tell if celebrity dealerships are the next big thing.