SBJ/20100517/This Week's News

Toymaker rolls at Dover with sponsorship, charity, hospitality

It’s unusual for a NASCAR licensee to find itself on the hood of a car, but toymaker K’nex was featured as the primary sponsor of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Chevy last weekend in the Nationwide Series race.

 K’nex, a NASCAR licensee since 2009, just unveiled a new line of building-block toys that form race cars like Earnhardt’s No. 88 National Guard car and Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 with the Pepsi marks.

To help launch those products and promote others to come in the fall, K’nex partnered with Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports to sponsor last weekend’s car, piloted by temporary driver Jamie McMurray. K’nex added a cause marketing piece to the program with a donation of toys to the Dale Jr. Foundation and the NASCAR Foundation.

“This gave us a great chance to promote a product launch in the NASCAR space,” said Michael Araten, K’nex’s president. “Through a lot of creativity on the part of the team, we can do something charitable as well and build that into the program.”

K’nex’s building blocks were featured on Dale
Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Nationwide Series car.

When JR Motorsports, Earnhardt Jr.’s Nationwide Series team, found itself with several unsponsored cars going into the 2010 season, the team began searching for some unique partners. Knowing that a new line of K’nex toys were coming out this spring, JRM created a program that would put the licensee on the car as the primary sponsor for the Dover race, which is convenient to K’nex’s Pennsylvania headquarters.

The paint scheme featured the building-blocks toys on the car, and McMurray’s driver suit was splashed with the building blocks as well. A typical driver suit costs $1,600 to make, but McMurray’s ran $2,800 because of the extra embroidery.

“Instead of just doing these one-offs where we put a sponsor on the car, collect a check and it’s done, we were looking for ways to work with our partners and bring them more value,” said Joe Mattes, JRM’s vice president of marketing and licensing. “As an industry, the toy category is probably our biggest void, so it’s also a way to do something that’s youth-oriented and brings awareness to a product in the NASCAR world.”

As K’nex built out its one-race deal, it arranged for display space in Dover’s KidZone, where it showed off a five-foot toy replica of the No. 88 K’nex Chevy. In an online consumer contest leading up to the race, K’nex asked fans to guess the number of parts required to build the toy replica and 100 winners were given two tickets to the race.

K’nex planned to donate 10 percent of its online product sales for the month of May to the Dale Jr. Foundation and distributed toys to the first 1,000 children at the race. Additionally, K’nex donated $100,000 worth of its toys to the Dale Jr. Foundation and the NASCAR Foundation, which distributed them to 19 separate charities.

For the hospitality piece, K’nex bought a suite for 60 guests at Dover, and a total of 200 employees were expected to be in attendance in both the suite and grandstands.

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