SBJ/Feb. 14-20, 2011/In Depth

Brand loyalty can be deeply personal



Sponsors, arguably, enjoy more visibility in NASCAR than any other sport. Cars are known by their number and their sponsor, and drivers rarely do a media interview without mentioning their sponsors.
Our panelists for the most part believed that sponsors have contributed to more scripted comments by drivers. They shared how sponsor ties to the sport and their favorite drivers affect what they buy and where they shop.

NASCAR talks all the time about brand loyalty. It claims that if you have a favorite driver or you see the NASCAR bar on a product, you’re going to be more inclined to buy that product. Is that accurate? How many of you have made a purchasing decision because of sponsor?

Michael: I drink Amp Energy. I don’t drink a lot of it. If I’m ever going to get an energy drink, it’s always Amp. It’s not Nos because that’s Kyle Busch and I’m not going to drink that. It’s Amp because that’s Dale Jr.’s. It does have an effect on a loyal fan.

Terri: I can’t give you an example. I know I do it all the time. I do it with an auto parts store. I do it with whatever.

Susan: No. Never. I like Coke. I don’t like Pepsi. If my guy’s a Pepsi driver, I’m not switching to Pepsi. I don’t drink energy drinks. I’m not going to drink Amp. I will say the only time I’ve made some consideration for that was when Tony Stewart was driving for Home Depot. I do have a preference for Home Depot over Lowe’s, and I think probably that’s Tony Stewart based.

Kevin: I’ve never made a consumer purchase based on a sponsorship, a driver-sponsor relationship in NASCAR. I like Lowe’s because their stores are put together more logical than Home Depot. It’s got nothing to do with Jimmie Johnson or anybody else.

Bo: I can tell you right now I wouldn’t walk into Lowe’s if I had a hole in my roof. I just do not like Jimmie Johnson. It’s just one of those kind of things. I don’t like walking into the store and seeing his face on the Coke machine. I don’t like seeing his car at the counter. So I will go to Home Depot and support Joey Logano as much as I possibly can.

What about drivers and sponsors? How has their relationship with sponsors changed?

Bo: You identified Miller Lite with Rusty Wallace. He didn’t even have to thank them until the end of the year if he didn’t want to. More and more of these drivers today stand in front and they run down the list of sponsors on the car that you can’t see when they’re flying around at 100 mph on the racetrack. It’s very robotic. I’d like to see it go back more to where it was: good ol’ boy racing.

Susan: You’ll see a guy like Mike Waltrip. He can run down a list of his sponsors and that takes up his entire comment [after a race]. That’s the first thing out of their mouth whenever they’re interviewed, “I want to thank A, B, C, D all the way down to Z.” Then you get maybe a half a second of what their personality is. They may have personality, but we don’t get to see what their personality is.

Michael, you’re younger. Does that bother you as much?

Michael: I guess with the economy so bad, you have to have sponsors to get by. Back when Earnhardt Sr. came up you had one sponsor — Wrangler — who got him up there. One of my favorite lines Earnhardt said was, “I can win in the car on Sunday and feed the cows on Monday.” You can relate to that if you’re a man that works outside all day. You could relate to the drivers. Nowadays, it seems it’s getting more and more about money.

Kevin: Drivers are too scripted. While it might be good for the sponsors to be associated with an event, it has detracted from what the fans are looking for and being entertained by watching a race.

Dan: In defense of the drivers, I’m realistic enough to recognize that the sponsors pay the bills. The sponsors put the cars on the track. The sponsors are responsible in large part for my enjoyment of the sport. I understand thanking sponsors. I know it annoys us all, but I’m realistic enough to know it’s kind of a necessary evil.

Bo: It’s sort of garbage in, garbage out with what they’re saying about sponsors. I understand sponsors pay the money and are due their time. But it’s a billboard that flies around the track 500 miles in most cases. They’re getting an awful big show if their car’s out front anyways. You don’t have to run down every sponsor that’s on that race car. I’m more into the human side of it. I’d rather see race car drivers talk about their real life stuff.

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