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NASCAR TARGETS KIDS, BUT MUST DANCE AROUND RJR'S SPONSORSHIP
Published May 22, 1998
To "broaden" its appeal and "increase its popularity, NASCAR is targeting young customers with everything from amusement parks to NASCAR Barbie, grooming its next generation of fans even as TV ratings and race-day attendance soar," according to Liz Clarke in a front-page feature in the WASHINGTON POST. NASCAR's Dir of Communications Worldwide John Griffin: "We're going after youth as a whole. We want to continue in our direction of becoming more of a white-collar sport, where it's mom, dad and the kids sitting around the TV and rooting for their favorite driver on Sunday. We're going after urban youth as much as any other youth" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/22). YOUTH MARKET: Clarke reports that as part of the "campaign," tracks are "turning into family-friendly venues," drivers are "taking care to connect with young fans," NASCAR-themed parks, cafes and retail stores are increasing, as are NASCAR toys and games, and plans for a Saturday morning NASCAR cartoon are "in the works." But as NASCAR "shifts its marketing focus toward kids, steering around" series sponsor R.J. Reynolds and its Winston brand "calls for deft maneuvers." Clarke writes that despite RJR's $30M annual support and $5M in prize money, "when it comes to NASCAR-licensed ventures aimed at kids, Winston's logo is conspicuously absent." The NASCAR Barbie Doll is "authentic down to the associate sponsors' patches" on her suit, minus any reference to Winston. The Cartoon Network is an associate sponsor of a NASCAR team, and Cartoon Network VP Bob Bryant said the net steps "lightly when it comes to the Winston Cup. We obviously do everything we can not to directly associate the (cartoon) characters and the (cigarette) brand." But Cliff Pennell, RJR's Sports Marketing Enterprises President, said that the company has no interest in NASCAR's youth initiatives: "This isn't about getting anyone -- regardless of their age -- to smoke. It's about trying to convert and switch adult smokers to our product." Clarke: "Yet, as NASCAR seeks a younger, more affluent and urban audience, its tobacco backing doesn't strengthen its hand as effectively as a sneaker company or a soft drink bottler might" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/22).