Kentucky Derby Case Study: Ram trucks and Stella

Kentucky Derby Sponsor Activation


Corey Christanell, Anheuser-Busch
Marissa Hunter, Chrysler Group
Kristin Warfield, Churchill Downs

Four years ago, Chrysler had a problem with its Ram truck brand in the Kentucky market. It’s market share lagged far behind Ford, and its trucks struggled to get consideration from horse trainers, jockeys and others who use trucks every day.

Chrysler took a big step to correct that problem in 2010 by signing a deal with Churchill Downs and activating against the Kentucky Derby. In the negotiation, Chrysler secured space for its brand on jockey pants and branding in the winner’s circle at the Derby and stables at Churchill Downs.

The brand launched a new campaign around the 2010 Derby using the tagline, “Guts. Glory. Ram.” In subsequent years, it added a “Horsemen’s Lounge” staffed by Ram Truck ambassadors who served owners, trainers and jockeys. This year, it added a Ram Longhorn truck on the red carpet and loaded it with red roses, which made it a popular photo opportunity for spectators.

Marissa Hunter, head of Chrysler Group’s Ram Truck brand communications and advertising, said local dealer leads grew more than 350 percent as a result of the Churchill Downs sponsorship.

“This for us is a huge win,” Hunter said. “Louisville has long been Ford country. We basically had no presence there. From a marketshare standpoint… that place has been owned by Ford for years and years and years. So we’re very excited that what we’re doing there at Churchill Downs seems to be paying off.”

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When Anheuser-Busch’s sponsorship of the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs came up for renewal in 2011, the company decided to shift its brand from Budweiser Select to Stella Artois.It was a leap for the brand, which historically sponsored film festivals and food festivals and avoided sports. But Anheuser-Busch marketers saw a fit for the brand with the Derby that they believed could boost sales and brand affinity.

“The beautiful people, the beautiful horse, the beautiful facility – all of that lends favorably to the brand image of Stella Artois,” said Corey Christanell, director of sports and entertainment marketing for Anheuser-Busch.

The fit was so right, Christanell added, that Stella, which uses the tagline “She’s a thing of beauty” in advertising, was able to sub out the image of a woman serving one of its beers in print ads with the image of a thoroughbred coming down the front stretch.

But it took more than a print campaign to boost Stella sales and make the sponsorship pay off in 2012 and 2013. Anheuser-Busch marketers added a series of events in 2013 to boost Stella’s visibility and sales at the event. It partnered with GQ to host a Derby Style party on Friday night with model Chrissy Teigen. It signed on as the presenting sponsor of a Taste of the Derby event in which 18 high-end chefs served some of their best dishes to 1,500 guests. And it partnered with NBC to create a sweepstakes on NBCSports.com that awarded winners a Derby party at their home catered by Stella-endorsed Chef Daniel Joly. The party was featured during NBC’s Derby broadcast.

Collectively, the efforts helped boost share during the week of the Derby by 1.8 percent, Christanell said. It also helped the brand go from serving 42,000 chalices at track and in market in 2012 to 65,000 chalices this year.

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