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Volume 21 No. 31
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M&M’s celebrates NASCAR title, milestone

M&M's activation zone at the Daytona 500 will feature a timeline, photo opportunities, prizes and an oversized M&M's themed cake to mark its 75th anniversary.
Mars Inc. is unleashing a big marketing push in NASCAR this season to celebrate both its first Sprint Cup Series championship, won by Kyle Busch in 2015, and M&M’s 75th anniversary this year.

Starting at the Feb. 21 Daytona 500, Mars — which has been in the sport for 25 years — will deploy a range of social, digital, at-track and employee-facing activations looking toward M&M’s past and future. The at-track aspect is rare for Mars, which typically

doesn’t activate on-site in NASCAR.

But with an increasingly healthy ROI from the sport and an incremental lift in associate/internal interest in the program, Mars is turning into one of NASCAR’s most feel-good marketing stories these days. Last year, the company signed a three-year extension of its Joe Gibbs Racing deal that costs around

$20 million annually, according to sources.

“In 25 years in the sport, we’ve had a lot of success — but it all culminated and came together in 2015 with winning a championship,” said William Clements, Mars’ vice president of sponsorships and sports marketing. “It works out perfectly well because the following year in 2016, one of the most iconic brands in the world … is celebrating its 75th anniversary — and we couldn’t think of a better place to start it than, of course, Daytona.”

There, M&M’s will for the first time run its 75th anniversary throwback paint scheme, which features both the yellow color that M&M’s-sponsored cars used to run, plus the brand’s Yellow M&M mascot from the 1960s. Its 40-by-40-foot activation zone will be on the midway and feature a birthday party of sorts around the
brand. There will be wall-size signage with a timeline featuring its history in the sport, a show car with a backdrop for photo opportunities, an area to win prizes, and — what’s a birthday party without chocolate? — an oversized M&M’s-themed cake to devour.

Clements said for right now the plan is to activate only at Daytona but added that “hopefully … we’ll be able to replicate it at some other tracks.”

Socially, Mars will have a seasonlong activation called #MMs75 that will run during the 75th lap of races where the 75th paint scheme is on Kyle Busch’s No. 18 JGR Toyota Camry. The promo will ask Twitter, Facebook and Instagram users to post their favorite memories of M&M’s or M&M’s racing along with the hashtag. Mars will have a team of people sift through the responses, find the best ones and award prizes accordingly, including replica championship rings, signed merchandise and, of course, Mars chocolate.

Mars this season also will expand the ways it leverages the sponsorship to grow employee and customer satisfaction/benefits — an aspect that, according to Clements, has more momentum than ever after Busch’s championship. Mars, which has a show car in front of all three of the domestic plants in the U.S. that produce M&M’s, also will be taking the Sprint Cup trophy on the road to the stores, business conferences and shareholder meetings of key customers such as Wal-Mart and Kroger.

Perhaps the cherry on top for Mars is the way last year’s championship has sparked interest in its NASCAR program among the company’s hundreds of vendors. Clements noted that 18 of the top 20 customers for Mars now run at least one NASCAR activation a year, and in 2016 some new ones will include Mars Petcare and premium chocolate brand Ethel M — which will activate in Nevada, where it is based and Busch is from.

Another aspect of the campaign is a social engagement called Vote For Your Favorite Peanuts where social media users can vote for their favorite M&M’s chocolate peanut flavor out of chili nut, honey nut, coffee nut and original peanut. Mars will get Busch, his wife Samantha and other JGR executives including team owner Joe Gibbs involved in order to spread the word.

Agency-wise, Mars works with The Elevation Group (NASCAR and sponsorship), Thomas J. Paul (promotions), True Speed Communication (at-track PR and driver management) and Weber Shandwick (off-track PR, digital and social).