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February 19, 2013

Nascar Drivers Speak Up, Aiming to Attract New Fans

Author: STUART ELLIOTT
Date: Feb. 18, 2013

NASCAR had come a long way from the days when it was dismissed as Southerners driving around in circles turning left. There was rising attendance at tracks, increasing television ratings for races and growing demand from marketers to be sponsors.

But all that was halted — and even reversed — by a brutal one-two punch from the recession and changing demographic trends. The economic recovery, sluggish as it has been, is helping Nascar on the financial front. But there remains a crucial issue: attracting the next generation of fans, adding to the existing loyal base — primarily older, rural white men — people who are younger, urban and multicultural.

Nascar has been working since 2009 on plans to stimulate long-term growth, which involved studies, focus groups and a change in advertising agencies. The longtime incumbent, the Jump Company in St. Louis, was replaced in July by a Madison Avenue giant, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, known for sophisticated work for blue-chip brands like American Express, Dove and I.B.M.

“I don’t think people saw that coming,” Kim Brink, managing director for brand, consumer and series marketing at Nascar, said of the choice.

Nascar is not as far afield for Ogilvy & Mather as it might have seemed, said John Seifert, chairman and chief executive at Ogilvy & Mather North America, because it is “an iconic brand, bigger than a sport,” as well as “a client who wants to transform itself and not be irrelevant in the future.”

Since the selection, Ms. Brink said, the agency’s flagship New York office has been developing “a new brand direction and a new creative platform” for Nascar, which are to include commercials in Spanish and more emphasis on Nascar’s online offerings like nascar.com and the 2013 edition of Fantasy Nascar.

The initiative is to be formally introduced on Sunday during coverage of the Daytona 500 on Fox. Nascar drivers are to contact fans and followers this week in social media like Facebook and Twitter to alert them the effort is coming.

Creating the ads “was unbelievable fun,” Mr. Seifert said. “We did everything short of bringing a Nascar in, which we plan to do in a week or two.”

That feeling comes through in the initial elements like television commercials presenting drivers in larger-than-life poses. They deliver brief, emotional comments directly to the camera, often finishing one another’s sentences.

For instance, in a spot called “Rivals,” Brad Keselowski says, “In order to finish first ...” The thought is completed by Clint Bowyer, who declares, “ ... somebody’s got to finish second.” Kasey Kahne chimes in, “I hate second.”

The spot finishes with Jimmie Johnson saying, “Love your rivals ...” and Mr. Keselowski concluding, “ ... ’cause you need someone to beat.”

In a commercial called “We Are,” the drivers offer pithy phrases that are meant to pique interest in their personalities. “We are mad scientists,” says Kevin Harvick, who is followed by Austin Dillon asserting, “We’re outlaws turned heroes”; Matt Kenseth saying, “We’re part athlete”; Ty Dillon declaring, “Part astronaut”; and Carl Edwards stating, “And all show-off.”

The commercial ends with Juan Pablo Montoya describing Nascar as “the loudest party on earth.” Mr. Harvick says, “We live on the corner ...” and Mr. Edwards completes the thought with “ ... of Mayhem and Main.” Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets the last word: “Where anything can happen. And usually does.”

A version of “We Are” in Spanish features Mr. Montoya, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Daniel Suarez. Some comments they make echo those made by the drivers in the English-language version. And some remarks are original to their spot, as when Mr. Montoya calls Nascar drivers “gladiators on asphalt” and says, “And although we are from different nations, we all share the same flag” — i.e., a racing flag.

There are, all told, 43 drivers appearing in the first stages of the campaign. They are the stars, said Terry Finley, senior partner and group creative director at Ogilvy & Mather New York, because “the way into the sport is the driver.”

The goal is to draw “a new line in the sand, if you will,” he added, and counter stereotypes about drivers as “dumb rednecks.” To underscore that, one commercial, titled “Chess,” compares the strategies of drivers to moves by chess players.

Another goal is to infuse the campaign with “authenticity,” Mr. Finley said, through touches like interspersing archival film amid moments from contemporary races and including in “Rivals” a pair of famous long-ago competitors, Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough.

Also to that end, the drivers were encouraged to deviate from the commercials’ scripts and “ad-lib a little,” said Dan Langlitz, account director at Ogilvy & Mather New York, because “that’s when you get true color from them.”

Including the Spanish-language aspects of the initiative, Nascar is expected to spend more this year than in previous years on marketing in traditional, digital and social media. Nascar also receives free commercial time during the races covered by its broadcast and cable partners like Fox, Fox Deportes, ESPN, Speed and TNT.

According to the Kantar Media unit of WPP, Nascar spent $24.3 million to advertise in major media during the first nine months of last year, compared with $16.1 million in the same period of 2011. The full-year total for 2011 was $24.1 million, Kantar Media reported; ad spending totaled $22.9 million in 2010 and $40.6 million in 2009.

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