Need for speed gets the hard sell
The car windows are blacked out, the engine crackles and roars, music booms from the stereo, a gigantic spoiler prevents all light from penetrating the rear window and the vehicle sits so low that it seems even a modest speed bump could prove insurmountable.
This is the trusted steed of the typical boy racer. Usually in his late teens or early twenties, he likes to modify his car and gather with like- minded souls in deserted car parks or at seafronts to admire their creations.
So we know who they are and even where some hang out, but how would you reach them en masse with a marketing message? This was the question posed by Stuart Gray, events and marketing director at the Knockhill Racing Circuit, to students at Edinburgh's Jewel and Esk College.
Next month, Knockhill will run Modified Live, billed as the ultimate modified car show. It should be boy and girl racer heaven, with competitions such as the European Drifting Championships (like synchronised swimming for cars) and everything from exhaust systems to body kits on sale. But in order to attend, the racers have to know it's happening.
"I came up with the idea to ask the students, given it was a young age group we were hoping to attract," says Mr Gray.
In November the students, who are studying for their HND in events management, visited the course and were taken round the track at 90mph by its rally drivers, so they were "energised" and understood "what the event was all about", he says.
The five teams then worked on ideas they could pitch to Knockhill managers in the college's eh15 restaurant earlier this year.
The circuit's representatives picked out the top team: Samantha Barnett, 19, Katie Cunningham, 20, Amy Fraser, 19, and Mary Steele, 19.
"It was great and we learnt a lot from it," says Samantha, from Edinburgh. "Not just the practicalities of how to put together a marketing plan and present it, but how to pull together and work as a team.
"Making our presentation was pretty nerve-wracking," she admits. "We had an audience of eight and, apart from presentations in class, it was our first experience of this sort. But we did fine and it was fantastic to win the competition."
Jewel and Esk lecturer Kevin Scally says this has been "a great experience" for all the students.
"Rather than a paper-based exercise, this project has a face and a real client," he says.
"It has given them practical experience of event management. In pulling together their plan, each of the teams had to consider timing and management issues, just as they would in a real working environment."
Knockhill dedicated pound;5,000 to making some of the students' ideas a reality.
The youngsters suggested that the track should enhance its contact with car-owner clubs and crews.
"If you have got a modified Astra VXR, you quite often become a member of the VXR owners' club," Mr Gray explains.
Expanding the range of radio stations it advertises with would also be worthwhile, they felt.
"I've got good links with Radio Forth and Real Radio, but they recommended Galaxy FM because seemingly that's what they (the boy racers) listen to," he adds.
In terms of advertising, the students suggested targeting other events aimed at boy racers, such as Edinburgh Cruise, and placing adverts on arcade driving games such as Need for Speed.
Competitions could also be run to highlight the event. One suggestion was that youngsters at school and college be challenged to build a car or modify their own.
They also suggested trying to attract sponsorship from Auto Trader, Fast Car Magazine and Redline Magazine.
Some of the students' ideas were simply unaffordable, such as using celebrities to draw in the crowds, says Mr Gray. "It would be nice to fly in a mega-star from California but it's not going to happen," he adds.
But other ideas, such as advertising the race course on Galaxy, have been taken on board.
In May, the students will attend the Modified Live event and find out how successful the changes have been at pulling in the crowds.
Mr Gray says: "It's good having ideas, but do they work? For us, if there is an increase in footfall, then there will have been a material benefit for having engaged in the project."
The know-how pool
Edinburgh universities and colleges are trying to improve their links with business by pooling their expertise. The 2kt project began more than two years ago when Napier and Queen Margaret universities decided to share one business development team.
Since then, the universities have helped 170 businesses to develop their products, processes and services by offering consultancy, research, access to specialist facilities, student projects and training. Sales among the small and medium enterprises rose by over pound;1.5m and helped create new jobs.
Late last year 2kt was expanded to include six colleges in the east: Stevenson, Telford and Jewel and Esk in Edinburgh, Carnegie and Elmwood in Fife and Oatridge in West Lothian.
The colleges and universities align their support with Scotland's key industry sectors: construction, computing and software, creative and digital, energy, engineering, food and drink, health and wellness, and life sciences.
"Renewable energy is a national priority of the Scottish Government and is an enterprise across Napier, Telford, Stevenson and Carnegie. They could have been in competition with each other," explains Brendan McGuckin, Napier's director of 2kt. "But what they had to offer together was much greater than they could have done individually."
If a business opportunity is presented to a 2kt college or university lacking appropriate expertise, it will be passed to the pool. The untapped potential of rural business is being explored, now that Elmwood and Oatridge are on board.
The project has been funded by the Scottish Government, the European Regional Development Fund and the Scottish Funding Council.