SBJ/March 12 - 18, 2007/This Weeks News

IndyCar driving home message for ethanol

The Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, a two-year-old coalition of plants that produce ethanol fuel, is hitching its first national marketing campaign to the IndyCar Series.

EPIC’s mobile marketing unit will travel
the IndyCar circuit, where cars will run
100 percent fuel-grade ethanol this year.

In an effort to raise awareness of the benefits of the alternative fuel, EPIC will roll out a program later this month that includes a new mobile marketing unit, TV and Internet buys with ABC/ESPN, and retail partnerships in the event markets, as well as local media buys. It’s all tied to the start of the IndyCar season on March 24 at Homestead, Fla.

Beginning this season, IndyCar will be the first motorsports series to run 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol in its race cars. The American Le Mans Series will run E10, a fuel mix that’s 10 percent ethanol. The ethanol made in the U.S. is essentially corn liquor.

“Last year we were more regional in our efforts,” said Reece Nanfito, EPIC’s senior director of marketing. “This year, we’re taking it national.”

EPIC’s TV buy with ABC/ESPN is its first on any national network. It also is buying time on Speed, CBS and NBC as part of the ALMS broadcasts.

“Our relationship with IndyCar is a great way to highlight and promote the benefits of ethanol fuel,” Nanfito said. “Motorsports is the perfect way to emphasize the performance aspects of ethanol. What better way to show it than with a car going 220 mph.”

EPIC created a relationship with the IndyCar Series last year by sponsoring the No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing car, supported by a “pump tour” that allowed consumers to buy E10 fuel in race markets at a reduced price.

EPIC’s “pump tour” was an initiation for many consumers to an ethanol-enriched product. Ethanol’s E10 product is available at about 46 percent of the retail outlets in the U.S., according to EPIC, and most cars run on E10 same as gas. Most of the outlets that offer E10 are in the Midwest, Nanfito said.

In an attempt to build on last year’s “pump tours,” EPIC will use its new mobile marketing unit at all 16 IndyCar events in the U.S., hoping to educate consumers with an interactive tour that includes videos, show cars and child friendly exhibits. It also will tour some ALMS, NHRA and IHRA events, as well as environmental festivals.

Nanfito said EPIC also is looking into aerial advertising before and after each race, which could tie into its retail partnership in the market. The retail brand will likely change from market to market, Nanfito said.

“This is a program a retailer can get very excited about because there’s going to be IndyCar drivers, local media, radio remotes, all to raise awareness about the benefits of ethanol,” Nanfito said. Local politicians also have made appearances, including three governors during “pump tour” stops in 2006.

The EPIC hauler will park next to IndyCar’s new Fun Zone hauler at the tracks. The Fun Zone, a mid-six-figure expense, will be filled with touch-and-sound displays emphasizing the history and innovations of the IndyCar Series.

“We think, together, these two display areas will make a great stopping point for our fans,” said Mike Ringham, IndyCar’s vice president of marketing. “We view ethanol as a significant point of differentiation for our series because we’re the only ones doing it. This is the right thing to do, from the standpoint of the environment and energy independence.”

Ringham said IndyCar would entertain Fan Zone sponsorship opportunities.

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