There will be much to remember from this year’s Daytona 500, but from a brand marketing perspective, the most indelible is unquestionably the use of Tide detergent to help clean up the jet fuel that poured onto the track after Juan Pablo Montoya’s Target car careened into a jet dryer during a caution igniting an explosion and causing a several hour red flag race delay. Proctor & Gamble’s Tide brand, of course, was one of the sponsors that helped open the floodgates of NASCAR sponsorship beyond automotive-endemic sponsors, beer and tobacco. The Tide Ride holds a place in NASCAR marketing lore, helping carry Darrell Waltrip and Ricky Rudd to tremendously successful careers.
Interestingly, Tide dropped out of major sponsorship in NASCAR in 2006. But, I suppose what they say about brand loyalty in NASCAR holds true. I keep picturing Bill France Jr., in ailing health but still very much involved in the way things run at NASCAR, calling his son Brian and NASCAR President, Mike Helton, in for a chat. ”Listen boys, I’m not going to be around forever so I need to know you guys aren’t going to screw this up. Whatever else you decide to do, you better make sure you have a boat load of Tide detergent ready during the 500 just in case one of these crazy drivers loses it in turn 3 and slams into one those jet dryers. Do you have any idea the damage that could do if we don’t have Tide ready?…… You don’t think it could happen?!!! Yeah, well, no one ever thought we’d have Toyota in the sport or a Colombian driver for that matter, so get to Lowe’s or Home Depot, or even Target as long as they sell those large sizes, and bring back some Tide!”
Such is the intersection of brand and sport that sets motorsports, particularly NASCAR, apart. Fans understand that it costs big money to put these events on, to field a race team, and to televise an event. And, they’re more than happy to extend some love to marketers that invest IF (and that “if” is captitalized because it’s a big “if”) sponsors continually work to ensure that loyalty is not taken for granted and that real value is brought to the fan. “Entertain me, give me unique opportunities, take me inside the sport, give me something to remember you by, and I’ll happily give your product consideration,” seems to be the mindset.
Funding a race team is the easy, albeit wildly expensive, way to do that. Becoming an official sponsor of NASCAR or building an association with one or more tracks is another. Advertising on race broadcasts is another important way that brands can connect with the most avid fans. We’ve noticed, however, an increasing array of self-serving in-race features that do little to ad value to the fan experience. You pay for an in-car camera, then you should get mention. You sponsor a promotion that awards drivers and fans alike a chance at money, you deserve to garner attention. But, why do I care how all of the Toyota or Ford cars are fairing in the race if the running order of Toyotas or Fords is not relevant to the actual event? Marketers need to be smarter and ensure that whatever feature they “sponsor” has some relevance to the fan that is consuming.
And that brings me to a final point about sponsorship mentions. We recognize that sponsors want to hear their names mentioned in driver interviews. But the laundry list (yes, I said laundry list) of sponsor thank yous is tired and ineffective for the sponsor. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post race interview after finishing second was honest and paid respect to fans and his team. Most importantly, it added some interesting insight into what happened on the final lap. It seemed sincere. Matt Kenseth on the other hand ran through his sponsor checklist while being less than forthcoming about what actually happened on the track. Maybe Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the sport’s most popular driver, not just because of his name, but also because he provides real value to his fans.