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Volume 23 No. 13
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Symphony of speed: Sunoco takes sound of track to fans

Sunoco distributed about 75 custom boomboxes to media, drivers, influencers and fans.
Sunoco uses its high-profile relationships in NASCAR, IndyCar and the NHRA to brand itself as the company “fueling victories” in motorsports. In recent years, the company has been eyeing a “more engaging way to talk about being the official fuel of racing across motorsports,” according to Mark Burford, Sunoco’s senior director of marketing strategy and creative development. Enter the “Essence of Racing” marketing campaign. Activation in the first two years of the program focused on two of the five senses — smell and sound. In 2015, Sunoco released a racetrack-scented cologne to conjure up the aroma of a racetrack, and attracted media coverage around it from the likes of GQ. Last year, it developed a custom-made boombox, sound board and creative around the sounds one hears at the track.

Who did the deal? Sunoco works with MKTG (formerly Team Epic) for sports marketing, where vice president Sakiya Daniel heads up the account. Sunoco also works with Allen & Gerritsen for PR, where Wick Vipond, vice president of business leadership, heads up the account. Burford heads up sports marketing for Sunoco.

A mobile app allows fans to choose sounds of the racetrack to conduct their own symphony.
How did the discussions get started? “Two years ago we had the ‘Essence of Racing’ play on words and fragrance, so we had smell. We were thinking about racetracks and the smell of the tires, the smell of the race fuel. And [last year] we started to think, ‘OK, what makes sense when you start to expand that?’” Burford said. “And one of the biggest things when you’re at the racetrack is the sound — everything from the tire wrenches to the car to the crowd, so we wanted to take that and really build a campaign around that, continue ‘Essence of Racing’ and strike deeper engagement with our fans.”

How did the activation work? Consumers could go to a special page on Sunoco Racing’s website, where they were prompted with a custom soundboard that had a range of different sounds in three different forms depending on if you were on the IndyCar, NASCAR or NHRA tab. For example, the IndyCar engine sound was a bit higher pitched than the NASCAR engine sound. If you were an influencer lucky enough to receive one of Sunoco’s custom-made cardboard boomboxes it sent out as part of the activation, you could then plug your device up to the boombox and play the beat.

Why is it unique? Sunoco played to the appeal of the human senses in a way that is a bit off the beaten path. By creating a soundbox where you could create a mix of sounds from the track, and sending out boomboxes to influencers to help amplify the message, Sunoco found an interesting way to underscore its connection to the racetrack.

Why do we like it? Unique and cerebral creative that is outside the box has a way of getting people’s attention, both consumers and media. For example, Burford conceded that his team created a bit of a challenge — albeit a good one — for itself after year one. It left big shoes to fill after the mainstream media pickup of the racetrack-scented cologne “went past our wildest expectations,” he said. In year two, those who worked on the project said the campaign achieved its goal of deepening engagement, with the average time spent on the site much higher including some users spending upward of 12 minutes making beats.

— Adam Stern