SBJ/Nov. 1, 2010/This Week's Issue

AARP will try to crack cause-marketing code with Jeff Gordon sponsorship

Cause marketers dipped their toe in NASCAR’s sponsorship pool in the past, but no one was willing to take the plunge into a seasonlong, multimillion-dollar deal. That all changed last week when the AARP announced its “Drive to End Hunger” campaign with Jeff Gordon.

The AARP’s three-year deal with Hendrick Motorsports, which is valued at $10 million to $15 million a year, could open the door to other long-term, cause-marketing deals. If the deal works as planned, it could show philanthropic groups how to recoup an investment in NASCAR.

The AARP is paying for the sponsorship. The nonprofit dedicated to supporting people over 50 plans to bundle the car with its media assets, which includes its magazine, website, radio and TV shows, and sell them to companies interested in both exposure and supporting the AARP Foundation and its Drive to End Hunger initiative.

The AARP hopes to recoup the investment on the car with the partnership sales, secure donations and then contribute 100 percent of all subsequent funds raised to its foundation and hunger initiative. It also hopes companies offer value-in-kind promotion of its text-to-donate campaign to support the Drive to End Hunger effort.

Sales will be managed by Kyle Lewis, AARP vice president of business development, and Andrew Campagnone, Wunderman vice president of motorsports, who helped put the deal together.

The AARP plans to release the paint scheme for the car in late November or early December. It expects to have no problem recouping its investment in the car or collecting donations for its effort to end hunger. It plans to set a benchmark early next year for how much of every dollar it raises is directed to fighting hunger. It also will create a Drive to End Hunger website that discloses who gives funds to the campaign and how those funds are distributed.

“People ask, ‘Why not feed people with the money [spent on the car]?’” Lewis said. “Well, as soon as we do that, we have to refill the kitty to continue feeding people. [The car] helps to keep that flow of funds full.”

The AARP represents approximately 38 million members. Membership costs $16 annually, but the organization earns more on royalties from offering AARP-endorsed insurance to members through its subsidiary, AARP Services, than it does on membership dues. It also manages AARP-endorsed financial products. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion.

NASCAR has seen the percent of its fan base 55 and older increase from 26 percent in 2005 to 32 percent in 2009, according to Scarborough Sports Marketing. AARP executives say the issue of hunger among seniors is most severe in the Southeast, making NASCAR a logical platform to promote its new initiative.

Though the AARP could benefit from exposure on the car — AARP Foundation logos dominated a backdrop at a press conference at Hendrick Motorsports last week — the nonprofit said it is focused on its Drive to End Hunger campaign.

“This campaign is about solving the issue of hunger in this country. Whether or not AARP gets more business, I think, is irrelevant in this issue,” said AARP Foundation President Jo Ann Jenkins. “We’re here to raise awareness around this issue of hunger in this country and raise funds.”

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