Nov 22, 2021

The Golden Age of Branding

Is the John Player Special Branding the Most Iconic Motor Racing brand?


What do you call it when unrelated events, happening at different times, eventually result in a connected convergence? Is that ‘synchronicity’, ‘serendipity’, ‘coincidence’ or something else?

Mediafleet was founded by Colin Smith in 2000 after spending a career working in and developing marketing businesses. Born in 1950, Colin grew up in the golden era of motor racing and, from the stands of Silverstone and Brands hatch etc, witnessed the evolution of motor racing. Not just from a vehicle technology point of view, but from a vehicle billboard standpoint as well. More on this later.

Now, let’s travel back in time to 1877, when a chap named John Player bought a tobacco company and set up in Nottingham, becoming famous for the pre-rolled cigarette. The company grew rapidly and decided in the 60’s that they needed a more ambitious marketing plan to really stand out.


In 1948, Colin Chapman built his first car, a modified Austin 7 he called the Mark 1. Subsequent ‘Marks’ and ‘Types’ went on to see great success in local trials events and track races. In 1952, Chapman decided to enter ‘Grand Prix’ racing with the Lotus 12 being entered at the Monaco Grand Prix driven by Graham Hill. Chapman went on to develop winning machines especially with his ‘mid engine’ Lotus 18. In 1963, Jim Clark won seven Grand Prix in the Lotus 25 and took the world championship home to Lotus. Lotus had really arrived.

Over the coming years, the technology wasn’t the only thing to improve in motor racing. Driver ability and race preparation improved as did driver safety and the race venues themselves.


The other big change that happened was when Lotus Cars signed a sponsorship deal with Imperial Tobacco for £85,000 and the era of motor racing sponsorship had arrived.

At this time, Colin Smith, and his brother Peter, were now keen motor enthusiasts and, with Peter’s friend Steve Thompson (later a driver himself for the Hesketh Racing Team), witnessed this branding revolution. For anyone born in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s the name ‘John Player Special’ conjures up the image of a Lotus racing car with the black and gold livery.

But why was this livery so successful?

James Parry head of design at Mediafleet comments, “In my opinion, the secret to its success is in its simplicity and elegance. Gold on black is a great colour combination. There are countless examples in the use of this combo from Dom Perignon to Burberry, to Chambord Liqueur. Even company name plaques for buildings adopt this colour scheme with the brass name plates and black writing.”

We now skip forward to 2020. Tobacco and alcohol companies have now been banned from sports advertising since 2003. For 20 years, Mediafleet has been successfully supporting organisations with their vehicle branding and Colin Smith has now retired with his son, Barnaby, taking ‘the wheel’. Lotus cars are going from strength to strength with the launch of several new exciting models – and for one particular launch, Lotus decide to re-introduce the ‘JPS style’ branding with black and gold graphics chosen for the new Lotus Evija.


Barnaby said, “The black and gold livery is iconic and when you combine the two, you are immediately taken back to the Lotus glory days. And who can forget the amazing drivers such as Graham Hill, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell to name but a few? From the days when my father used to go and watch these cars in his youth, to the modern reworking on the livery for the Evija, it’s still such an iconic look.

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