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Volume 21 No. 13
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With messaging that tests well with young, IndyCar steers delivery toward digital video, social media ads

Motivated by focus group research and ratings gains, IndyCar is shifting its marketing budget this year to become more digitally and socially focused, with the goal of reaching more young people.

Last year, IndyCar researched the appeal of its product to millennials, or Generation Y, and the generation following them, Generation Z. C.J. O’Donnell, chief marketing officer of Hulman Motorsports, which owns IndyCar, said the research also examined the effectiveness of IndyCar’s marketing.

The results showed that IndyCar’s marketing and product remained appealing to younger generations. However, the results also revealed that the sanctioning body needed to switch up how it delivers its product to them.

As a result, O’Donnell said IndyCar will shift its marketing dollars away from print advertising, and to a lesser extent television advertising, and more toward digital video production and paid social media advertising, which are seen as better mediums to reach youth. He said IndyCar will devote about 40-50 percent of its marketing spend to digital and paid social this year, compared to 15-20 percent in the past.

O’Donnell, who has been in his position since 2013, said the timing is right to start what he calls Phase 2 of his marketing plan for the series. For the past three years, IndyCar rode more traditional marketing — focused on lapsed fans — to a 34 percent increase in TV ratings. The series averaged 1.278 million viewers a race in 2016 across ABC/ESPN and NBC Sports.

“(Those in Generation Y) are not consuming TV in the same way that their parents or even Gen X is; they’re not looking to the same channels and media outlets for information on sports,” O’Donnell said. “Both in our paid media and earned media, we have to go about a new path that actually speaks to them as well as the core audience.”

O’Donnell said that IndyCar’s spend in the digital/social realm is more than tripling. IndyCar worked with New York-based Miner & Co. Studio on the research effort. IndyCar works with Johnson & Wolverton, New York, on marketing.

O’Donnell cited IndyCar partner Gannett as an example of a media outlet that IndyCar will look to use differently moving forward. Specifically, he envisions IndyCar spending more money on USA Today’s For The Win digital property and less on USA Today’s print issue.

He also noted the potential benefits of layering in paid social media posts to complement usual free posts.

“(IndyCar’s social media channels) are getting to a point where the critical mass number of followers is meaningful, but we’ve done everything so far on an organic base,” O’Donnell said. “The rules of Facebook and Twitter these days really limit the reach (for free posts), so it’s both their business strategies as well as the need to reach new audiences that led us to change.”

Rival series NASCAR started shifting its marketing focus toward digital and social media in late 2014 and fully adopted the strategy last year.