NASCAR partners with VaynerMedia to enhance marketing push, promote star power
The first season without Dale Earnhardt Jr. behind the wheel was always going to be a massive test for NASCAR, but the sport is working on several new marketing strategies that make a priority out of promoting the sport’s stars.
On top of a 2018 marketing campaign and new fantasy game both launching this week, NASCAR is working with social media executive Gary Vaynerchuk’s VaynerMedia on a new partnership to promote the sport and its personalities.
The sanctioning body is coming into the new year with four major strategies: Utilizing insights from a revamped data division; elevating star power; deepening fan engagement; and keeping an eye on emerging and new platforms that can be leveraged.
“We’ve talked about leading with digital and social first the last couple years, and I think ’18 is going to be great because we’re continuing to challenge ourselves to do more and do it with more relevance than we’ve done in the past,” said Jill Gregory, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of NASCAR. “Not that anything we did in the past was incorrect, but we have to keep up with the changing engagement of the fan base.”
For its 2018 campaign, NASCAR will adopt a strategy it tested during last year’s playoffs in which it will split the year into sections, or what it’s terming “chapters.” Sections will include Daytona’s Speedweeks; the West Coast swing; NASCAR Salutes; and the Kids Drive NASCAR campaign. Gregory said the segmentation will allow NASCAR to be more nimble with its messaging. If a storyline develops later in the season, it can be incorporated into an upcoming chapter’s marketing.
While NASCAR switched to a social-first approach in recent years, it will continue to have an advertising presence on rights holders Fox Sports and NBC Sports on top of sharing spots digitally. Spots to start the season will include one around the revamped fantasy game; one around the Hashtag 500 giveaway contest that NASCAR is bringing back after a one-year hiatus; and driver profile vignettes.
Star power will be at the root of all NASCAR marketing this season; the sanctioning body says internal data shows that fans are more engaged when they have favorite drivers. But the sanctioning body is putting an increased focus on building star power both with drivers and with other personalities in the sport such as crew members or spotters.
NASCAR formalized its driver marketing group and star power initiative in 2011 and over the years since has worked with drivers to get them to show more of their personal life and into media that aligns with them. But last year, after the sport had realized Earnhardt was retiring, NASCAR started talking with VaynerMedia in a bid to take its star power efforts to the next level. After determining that the two sides would work together, the New York City-based agency embarked on a listening tour around the NASCAR industry, talking to teams and drivers to figure out how it can help.
Gregory said VaynerMedia brings an outside-the-fishbowl perspective of how and what the sanctioning body should market. The agency has dabbled in NASCAR before, as it produced Budweiser’s well-received farewell ad to Earnhardt at the end of last season. NASCAR is still finalizing exactly what the partnership will look like and hasn’t formally announced it, but it outlined the venture to industry executives during last week’s marketing and communications summit in Charlotte.
“We all work day in and day out with the NASCAR season, and one of the things they’ve been able to do that’s really great is remind us how compelling some of the things we do every week can be,” Gregory said. “It’s that fresh perspective of, ‘Hey, you should look at this because it’s driving engagement and eyeballs for people who don’t have as many things going for them as you guys do.’”
Other key initiatives for NASCAR this season include greater use of pop culture influencers — both in terms of getting more of them to races and getting them to share more content of the experiences from their own social media accounts — and using data to identify which subsets of the fan base NASCAR has the best chance of growing and engaging. NASCAR also streamlined its content efforts into one group, headed up by Evan Parker, managing director of content strategy. Gregory thinks this will help NASCAR be more strategic and prolific with the video and written content it produces.