NASCAR is continuing its efforts to broaden its appeal while retaining longtime fans with a campaign that will portray popular drivers and their supporters as nation states fighting for hegemony.
The campaign, set to begin this weekend, is promoting a revamped 10-race playoff format known as Chasing the Nascar Sprint Cup, which will be covered by ESPN from September 14 to November 16. The campaign begins with advertisements on the theme “Sixteen Nations. Ten battles. One of them will prevail”, and concludes with the theme “The battle of four nations. Only one will prevail.
The campaign includes online content and fast-paced commercials with an intensity that suggests perhaps the theme should be “Forward, Nascar Drivers, Run Like For War.” The spots include scenes of drivers, their teams working on cars in garages and fans decorated in the colors and numbers of their favorite drivers. The concept is to present the 16 drivers who will qualify for the Chase – supported by their team members, sponsors and the manufacturers of their cars – as powerful nations preparing for series of challenges to determine the winners and losers finals.
So far, 12 drivers have been selected to participate, including Kurt Busch, the leader of “Outlaw Nation,” named after his nickname; Carl Edwards, “Carl Nation”; Jeff Gordon, “Gordon Nation”; and Jimmie Johnson, “Jimmie Nation.” Each designation is accompanied by a hashtag for social networks. For example, Brad Keselowski from “Brad Nation” will be tagged with #GoingFor2, and Joey Logano from “Logano Nation” will be tagged with #TeamJL.
The campaign is created by Ogilvy & Mather New York, which was hired by Nascar early last year to courting the next generation fans while remaining connected to core fans. The campaign represents what Nascar executives call the first advertising collaboration between Nascar and a television partner; Typically, a network uses its own agencies or employees to create advertisements to promote its racing coverage.
The “battle of the nations” theme, says Brent Dewar, Nascar’s chief operating officer, is “authentic to our brand and to our sport” because it reflects how fans perceive their favorite drivers. It also echoes phrases Nascar already uses in marketing and social media, like “Nascar Nation”, which serves as a Twitter account with @Nascar.
It is hoped that the continued clashes pitting the racing car titans against each other will “ignite the passion of intensely loyal fans and reach beyond the core to a younger, more multicultural audience,” said Adam Tucker, president of Ogilvy & Mather New York. , part of WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide division.
There is data suggesting that Nascar faces an uphill road to recover the peaks in attendance and television audience that it enjoyed in the mid-2000s. “Nascar, from a national point of view, has been rather stable over the last two years in terms of perceived popularity”, said Jon Last, president of the Sports and Leisure Research Group, a consultancy, describing it as “half full, half empty.” situation, to the extent that if the ardor for Nascar does not rise, it does not fall either.
“The big question,” he added, “is how well fans will perceive the new playoff format and whether “something like this generates more interest,” especially at “this time of year when college and professional football is gearing up.”
Mr Tucker said he and his colleagues at the agency “feel delighted with the progress” made since they began their first ads, celebrating drivers as heroes, in February 2013.
And the Chase, said Terry Finley, senior partner and group creative director at Ogilvy & Mather New York, “would be a more interesting product” to promote to current and potential fans.
“This year is an important year,” Mr. Finley said, because “this campaign has to educate people, make them aware of the changes” to the playoff formula “so that they can enjoy the races.”
“It’s going to take a little time,” he added, “but it’s going to attract more fans. I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t.”
Mr. Finley and Mr. Tucker said they believed the imagery of nations at war in a time when some nations are fighting in real life would not deter the public. “This is all done in the context of race,” Mr. Tucker said.
Mr Dewar said the campaign did not need to be changed after Tony Stewart, a Nascar driver, hit and killed Kevin Ward Jr. on Aug. 9 during a non-Nascar race on a dirt track in upstate New York. Mr Stewart has skipped two Sprint Cup races since the accident and plans to jump a third.
“We respectfully acknowledge what a terrible tragedy this is, but nothing has specifically affected the direction” of the campaign, said Scott Parker, vice president of consumer marketing at ESPN.
The Chase “brings a new and heightened sense of anticipation and excitement to the playoffs,” he added, and the campaign offers “an amplified message across all the different elements.”
It is difficult to estimate spending on the campaign because much of it is run through media outlets owned and affiliated with Nascar, ESPN, drivers, automakers and sponsors. Nascar describes the campaign as its largest marketing effort ever. According to Kantar Media, a unit of WPP, Nascar significantly increased its paid advertising spending in the first quarter, to $3.9 million, compared to $1.6 million for the same period in 2013.