Mackey Marketing Group Weblog

December 15, 2010

Brand Exposure is not what race marketing is all about. Influence is.

by Brian C. Mackey, Mackey Marketing Group
In racing circles, brand exposure on a race car is often interconnected and wrongly confused with commercial “value”. NASCAR reaches a higher number of people through events and television and therefore, the reasoning goes, is of higher commercial value than its competing race series. Here’s my problem with this line of reasoning. This is just my opinion but….. for our purposes, exposure is hugely overrated. There, I said it. To establish the value of motorsports as primarily exposure oriented will only hasten the sport’s inevitable slide into commercial obscurity. Until “exposure” is translated into “customers,” there is little reason to spend the amounts of money that is needed to fund a professional racing team. OK, there are exceptions and “exposure” is of some relative importance, a small portion of the marketing pie, but I don’t care whether you’re sponsoring NASCAR, INDY, F1 or SCCA club racing, the “exposure” generated is not the primary reason to sponsor a race car. Why? Because it won’t sell much product/service. The exposure number merely defines the size of the audience that an advertiser (aka sponsor) can influence. Obviously, the larger the “audience” , the larger the potential sales market. To put it another way, splashing your name on the side of a race car is akin to painting a tractor trailer truck with a corporate logo on the side of it, big letters and all, and driving it around the country for a year. The “exposure” would be significant and if you know someone willing to pay me $8MM, $10MM, $15MM or even $20MM to do that, call me. I’ll buy a truck and hit the road tomorrow.
To use old marketing jargon, there is no “call to action” in “exposure”. It’s passive. And it won’t sell much product. To utilize a motorsport marketing campaign properly, you must think of the racing program as the delivery vehicle of the corporate message. Similar to a television program on a TV network, advertisers select specific programming to reach the specific audience. A bigger audience means bigger advertising revenue, but not necessarily appropriate for all advertisers. “The View” reaches a big daytime audience, but doubtful an economical buy if the advertiser is seeking a male demographic. Similarly, an advertiser who is seeking an audience with a demographic that matches a racing program or a function that can be served through motor racing and voila, a potential partner emerges. The process is halfway there. But not all the way. When the advertiser purchases ad time on a TV program, they don’t just show their logo for :30 seconds. If a viewer sees a corporate logo displayed across the TV screen for :30 seconds, whether the audience is in the millions or just a couple hundred, do you believe that the viewing audience is going to rush out and buy the product? Recognizing that motorsport does in fact carry an unusually high level of influence that can accomplish some measure of success simply via “exposure” among a number of die-hard fans (like me) might be tempting to rely upon but in reality will not create in sufficient numbers a reliable and long-lasting response to achieve a successful commercial outcome. Yet that’s what we do with a race car; we put the corporate name on the side of it and often expect the benefit to simply flow to the sponsor’s bank account. No, the advertiser on TV also communicates a message that is meant to INFLUENCE the audience to purchase the product. He “reaches” the audience with the programming, but he “influences” the audience with the advertisement. There is some form of commercial message that is communicated through the ad – the “call to action.” It’s the “buy my product” message. That is what a racing program must develop as a means to justify the sponsor investment. How can motorsports ring the sponsor’s cash register, what is the message that is going to be communicated, how are you going to do it and how are you going to measure the results? Corporations have all sorts of marketing objectives. Motorsport’s job is to service them, from hospitality to lifestyle, to product reliability and celebrity endorsement. Any sport, any event, nearly anything can generate “exposure” and to rely on it as the paramount benefit of motorsport sponsorship is selling the sport far too short. Motor racing is much more “special” than that. Focusing on the priorities of corporate objectives is what motorsport marketing is all about. It ain’t easy, trust me, I know better than most. But “exposure” has very little to do with benefit except defining the size of the audience that is to be influenced.
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