The Fate of Empires

“Black Badge is for those who reject conformity and live life on their own terms. It’s for the innovators, trailblazers, rulebreakers – and above all – those who dare.” Rolls Royce Motors.

Be indoors by nightfall… Black Badge Cullinan, recently. (c) Autocar

The highly decorated former British soldier, subsequent historian and writer, Lieutenant-General Sir John Bagot Glubb published his noted essay, The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival in 1978. Having spent over forty years in the British army observing England’s Glorious Empire wither into insignificance, he was probably well placed to comment upon such matters.

His studies concluded that empires evolve through a number of phases, from the age of pioneers, of conquest and of growth, through ages of commerce, affluence and intellect. From here however, there inexorably follows an age of decadence, precipitating a gradual decline and eventual fall. Having studied the trajectory of eleven major empires – from Assyria (859-612 BC) through to the British empire (1700-1950) – he discovered that this process in its entirety took on average around 250 years in each case.

Storied carmaker, Rolls Royce Motors has been in existence a mere 115 years, so if one cleaves to Bagot Glubb’s thesis, it has some time yet to run before the sun sets upon its gilded throne. But given the current state of play across the wider motor industry, to say nothing of the super-luxury segment, making any kind of reliable predictions has become something of a fool’s game.

And on the subject of foolishness, we are confronted today by a promotional clip by Rolls Royce for its newly minted Cullinan Black Badge offering. For those of you unaware of such matters, Black Badge is regarded as the putative ‘bad-boy’ of the RR range – the one that gets a little leery, urinates on the Persian rugs and slashes the Rembrandts.

If RR’s marketers are to be taken seriously, (and that’s a question worth pursuing), we are encouraged to believe there is something of the night about these be-pimped Rollers, and by association, one assumes, their owners. And in this at least, one must conclude, there is something of a stopped-clock accuracy about it.

Whether it was intentional or purely accidental that Rolls Royce’s marketers elected to project CEO, Torsten Müller-Ötvös as a proto-Bond villain is likely to remain shrouded in the kind of celluloid gloom which permeates the spot – (another five minutes of my life I’ll never recapture), but needless to say, the whole business is quite beyond parody. It’s also grimly hilarious, although I somehow doubt this was intentional. But please, do not simply take my word for it.

As I have been at pains to point out of late, when it comes to marketing communications, context is everything – a quality sadly lacking in this rather silly piece of PR fluff, to say nothing of wit, restraint or taste. Qualities one might be forgiven for having associated with the RR brand. Exactly who is this aimed at, and what level of mentality do they possess, is another question that begs an answer. And if Rolls Royce management are serious about undermining their brand, exactly what sort of sustainable future do they envisage it enjoying?

Perhaps automotive bosses like Müller-Ötvös have already discerned exactly how much of a future there is likely to be and are therefore bound to leverage their assets until the pips squeak before the whole Pantheon edifice crumbles. The Rolls Royce CEO certainly appears as unapologetic about his wares as he is about the manner in which he elects to promote them. Good for him. It will surprise nobody then, that my view of these actions as hubris writ wide across the glowering skies remains equally unassailable.

All empires fall. That is an inescapable fact. The age of the motor car is drawing to a close and seems likely to end on a messy, unseemly and yes, decadent note.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

25 thoughts on “The Fate of Empires”

  1. Epic! In relation to ‘epically painful’. It’s like what Harrison Ford is alleged to have told George Lucas about his script, ‘you can type this shit, but you sure can’t say it’.

  2. If this had been the nineties, Herr Müller-Ötvös would’ve been seen with the “I bet he drinks Carling Black Label” crowd.
    Should my entrepreneurial skills reach such high levels, I shall look elsewhere to spend my hard-earned. Perhaps a perfectly ostentatious enough Rolls Royce. This is sub-niche extravagance ramped up to obscene. A knight of the road is a gallant notion. King of the night is just plain bonkers

  3. Last week I ignored the one-way arrows in an empty supermarket car park. Does that qualify me for a Cullinan Black Label?

  4. Not quite bad-ass enough, Daniel. Perhaps a donut or two, maybe a burnout.
    For full marks though, you’d need to push a trolley into the river. After you’ve collected the pound coin, though…

    1. Or perhaps steal a traffic cone. At night. On a dual-carraigeway. And get caught by the police while doing so. Now that’s what I call daring…

  5. My wife thought it was a slightly stretched black cab, all it needs is the for hire sign on the roof.

    The video is a howler, taking themselves all a bit too seriously there methinks.

  6. “Black Badge is for those who reject conformity and live life on their own terms. It’s for the innovators, trailblazers, rulebreakers – and above all – those who dare.”

    “Black Badge is for sociopaths and those who live life trampling on the backs of those they consider beneath them.
    It´s for the low-tax entrepreneurs, market-fundementalists and mercantilist ruthless rent-seekers who demand corporate welfare but who will happily let the weak and old die cold and alone;
    it´s for those who can ignore those driven to suicide by their powerlessness and despair if it means keeping another pound, dollar or euro.
    It´s for drug dealers, dictators and kleptocrats.
    And so too our regular cars!”

    1. Haha, Richard, very funny. In a similar vein, here’s a guy on YouTube, an American comedian, who posts parodies of commercials that are a bit blue, but great fun. Here’s an example, for Chevy trucks:

      And for a drug for treating constipation:

      Apologies for any offence caused.

  7. Just seen this on Facebook. The MOT checker says it expired 4 years ago, so it is either an old photo, or someone who runs a van that shouldn’t be on the road and won’t be too bothered by BMW-RR’s lawyers:

  8. Thank you for bringing this other great piece of contemporary history to our attention. One day it will belong into a museum. (If not today already?)

    I came across another RR marketing video recently that left me rather dazzled. However, I think I have since been able to make a bit more sense of it:

    Firstly, I find Mr. Müller-Ötvös makes for a rather laudable James Bond villain. I doubt many other current day car CEOs could have pulled this off quite as convincingly. His charisma and salesman qualities do shine through quite clearly. Are they a source of the company’s recent sales success? Potentially. Imagine they would have sat Dieter Zetsche in that chair. It wouldn’t have worked at all.

    Secondly, I think this is an extremely professionally and well put together piece of marketing video, even if most of us old school car people may not find it very appealing. But, I doubt many of us consider themselves part of the RR BB target group, would we? (The regular will do…)

    Thirdly, this once again serves to show that gone are the days where Rolls Royce(s?) were primarily bought by a small British upper class which wanted to avoid coming across as overly ostentatious for the sake of social harmony. No, the Rolls Royce buyer of today most likely resides in Dubai or Moscow and has neither the slightest concern nor even the slightest sensibility for social harmony. Besides, it seems plausible that a substantial subset of this target group acquired their wealth through more ruthless means than just having been born into a rich family by coincidence. The James Bond villain no doubt has more appeal to this audience than Robin Hood, Greta Thunberg or Dieter Rams.

    In conclusion then, much more worrying than Rolls Royce becoming a company of decadence, is the reading that Rolls Royce is merely the mirror of a society that has lost a lot (not quite all) of its sense of moderation, modesty, fairness and cohesion. It’s everybody against everybody, dog eat dog. And who could deny, that in a state of complete anarchy, a seat at the wheel of the “King ofthe Night” (not a hollow claim) seems conducive to survival? The question that remains: Will tables turn? And if yes, how and when?

  9. I think it likely that no British CEO would do the Darth Vader I’m a Bad Boy routine that this guy served up with a distinct Germanic accent. Put him on a bar stool in a five star hotel in Chichester mouthing this marketing nonsense to all and sundry, and he wouldn’t last long enough to spit it all out before dark muttering and then catcalls stopped his fantasy in flight. It’s pretty obvious that Rolls Royce Motor Cars is not a British outfit these days, nor is it interested in hammering the next door Goodwood Hill Climb record for tanks and upscale SUVs to pieces with fleets of Cullinan Black Badges, sporting even more power and torque (the two are synonymous mathematically connected by revs/minute).

    But society has been internationally neoliberalized, and trade pacts where the almighty investor has disputes settled in courts/panels supra the highest national level are now the norm. The elite wealthy class and the companies they run paying little in income taxes while hoarding their gains in offshore banks far away from civil servant auditors, can view the video in private and get a thrill, I suppose.

    The hordes of continually-released limited-edition supercars so expensive that no mere mortal can afford them are also redolent of the trend in catering to the overly wealthy. They are the baubles and trinkets of a class divorced from the run of the mill wage slave. Mere upper premium cars such as Aston Martin and Bentley have been having a hard time of it lately, being perhaps just a bit too common.

    What a strange world we now inhabit. This video caters to those without a care in the world for common folk or the environment, and unapologetically so. Kicking sand in the faces of people merely trying to get by seems ultimately to be a losing tactic. However, with the over the top surveillance to which we are all subjected, rumblings of rebellion can be caught early, and squashed. So maybe we have to live the forseeable future putting up with crowings of the people who have tied their fortunes to those of the 1 per cent. Did I and hundreds of millions of other in the West work all my life to merely hand over the fruits of my labour to an exalted class of rentiers and the bankers who finance them? It seems so.

  10. I can’t say that I’m surprised. Introducing a line of “Bad Boy” Rollers might contribute to the idea that the owner might be a real bad ass, not just a Warren Buffet type. Perfect for Rappers, sports celebrities and You Tube millionaires. I live in California’s Silicon Valley and I’m used to seeing lots and lots of high dollar cars mixing it up in local traffic. A blatant display of ostentatious wealth like this is way out of the ordinary. I’d be afraid that it would generate more hostility than admiration. I’d be afraid to be seen in public in a car like this.

    1. Hi Jose. Your post reminded me that Warren Buffett is famously frugal for such a wealthy man. He currently drives a five year old Cadillac XTS. I imagine he wouldn’t be seen dead in a Black Label Rolls-Royce.

  11. The only possible way to make this video appear even funnier is to imagine ToMüÖt’s predecessor in his place, Tom Purves. He wouldn’t even need to speak, but only wear that ‘bad-arse’ leather jacket.

    He speaks the way he looks, by the way.

  12. Arguably this kind of drivel is exactly what prospective, obscenely rich and pretentious RR buyers want to hear, so I think they’ve got the clip right on the nose. I believe that applying a layer of paint to an “untouchable” logo is all the excitement these people can wish for in their cushy lives ; )

  13. I must say, what I really appreciated about the clip (apart from all of it, naturally), was the distinct and to me rather overt Ryanair ambience of the yellow highlights in the Black Badge Cullinan’s cabin. (Well, what can I say, I even fly down to the shops these days…) Obviously the target customer would be oblivious of such matters, but one wonders if it isn’t a subtle dig at their newly-enriched owners?

  14. Here’s some competition for the Cullinan Black Label, the new Mercedes Maybach GLS 600:

    Lovin’ the two-tone paintwork and the bling wheels.

    1. It´s delightfullly aftermarket, isn´t it? The area around the grille is screamingly awful. Still, drug dealers, kleptocracts and the like are not moral and therefore not aesthetic beings. The two go together. One can be moral and not aesthetic, I think (somone not materially inclined) but I think aesthetics requires morality.
      The people working on this should feel as if they are handling the design equivalent of sewage.

    2. I know it’s pointless bothering to critique such a monstrosity, but one detail of the two-tone paint finish looks especially unpleasant to me: I’m referring to the way the change in colour does not align with the shut-line between the front wing and bonnet, leaving a thin strip of upper body colour along the wing. Had the vehicle been designed with a two-tone paint finish in mind, the shut line could easily have been lowered an inch or so but, of course, it wasn’t because this is merely a blinged up version of the regular GLS.

    3. “One can be moral and not aesthetic, I think (somone not materially inclined) but I think aesthetics requires morality.”

      Caravaggio, Wagner, Yukio Mishima… and many others would disagree.

    4. We can argue this one backwards and forwards, but since it’s rather likely to be a somewhat binary and inconclusive discussion, I’m not sure how much value there is in it. However, what can probably be said without too much risk of dissent is that when it comes to an apprehension of either aesthetics or morality, Torsten Müller-Ötvös, his board and (former) design director are sorely deficient in either quality.

    5. Angel: You can add Jean Genet to the list and Picasso was not such a nice man too. The next job I have is to try to resolve the dilemma. What kind of morality do I mean? And perhaps morality is not an even coat of paint but something partial. That just points out the trickiness of my original point. I am glad you mentioned those counter-examples…. thinks…thinks… Perhaps I could ask if those cases are truly immoral people or people with a distinct morality that is not, say, the simplistic secular ethical morality I had in mind. That´s not supposed to be a gotcha question, by the way. I don´t think you would call those individuals morally bankrupt but not very saintly either.
      As I say, a thought-provoking counterpoint!

    6. Richard: I think that moral conduct is just separate from God-given talent, whether it is artistic, academic or athletic, military leadership, business, or whatever field of human achievement one could name.

      Too many counterexamples to the contrary.

      Caravaggio, Wagner and Mishima fail almost everyone’s test for minimum standards of moral conduct: I guess excepting murderers, anti-semites, and Emperor worshipping, suicide cult leading ultranationalist fanatics.

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