Mackey Marketing Group Weblog

July 7, 2011

Rule #1.

by Brian C. Mackey
Mackey Marketing Group, Inc.
Atlanta, GA

First, let’s back up and get one thing straight. That is that racing’s fundamental strength as a promotional platform is its influence upon an audience of race fans. Simply put, racing fans have shown superior (some might say “incredible”) loyalty to racing sponsors and that translates into greater sales for the sponsors. At its core, it’s as simple as that. To me, it’s the “NASCAR” story of success.
Now if the argument goes that Versus is killing Indy Car due to low rating numbers, while at the same time telling me that 80 million homes can receive the signal, it would seem there is a disconnect. It is this disconnect that is the problem. There seems to be plenty of homes that receive the Versus coverage of Indy Car. The problem is that no one is watching it. If sufficient interest in Indy Car existed, the rating numbers would improve, even on Versus. This will be the first true indicator that Indy Car is recovering. When Versus ratings consistently and substantially improve, it will signal indisputably that Indy Car is forging a comeback. Alternatively, if Indy Car simply broadcasts the signal to a greater number of homes via a commercial network, how is it that a proportionately increasing number of people will tune in just because it is there? Yes, ratings would be marginally better based upon a greater number of TV homes and Indy Car would get larger TV viewership by grabbing more of the “casual” viewer. But, even then, the result would continue to be lackluster rating numbers based upon the even larger pool of potential viewers. To rely on the over simplified solution of increasing the broadcast signal distribution via commercial networks is setting aside the fundamental problem that brought us here. Indy Car needs more fans. My argument is if you can’t get viewers from Versus coverage, what makes you think you can get them by simply changing networks?
Finally, as a means to generate more fans, television is a weak substitute to attending an event. As I’ve said many times, events beget fans. Television reinforces them. Once a fan, the fan will watch the events they don’t attend on television and likewise, television coverage will spur fans to attend more events. They will see the ads. And they will buy the sponsor products. That is how it works, fundamentally, or at least, used to work. Until we as an industry can rediscover this process, sponsor interest will continue to decline, especially in this economy. At the end of the day, sponsors are in the game for one reason. They want fans to buy their products. Casual viewers who watch sporadically on TV won’t necessarily do that. However, race fans have proven to be a legendary and time tested source who will. It is why race fans are such a turn on to sponsors. Racing and sponsors in the know have eagerly ridden this pony for nearly fifty years now.
Rule #1: Get Indy Car more race fans (see first paragraph).
Rule #2: Accomplish rule #1, and sponsors will follow.
Indy Car must continue to focus on rule number 1. No other distractions or long term goal can interfere with the simple objective of generating more fans. To me, Indy Car management seems to be clearly focused in this direction and despite setbacks, provides a basis for continued optimism and downright hope for the future of the series.
Because Versus or no Versus, without more passionate fans, there will be no Indy Car, or perhaps more accurately, no Indy Car sponsors.

Visit our website at http://www.mackeymarketing.com

May 10, 2011

It’s 2011 already. We need to start thinking that way.

by Brian C. Mackey
Mackey Marketing Group, Inc.
Atlanta, GA

Much has been debated in recent seasons regarding Indy Car’s television broadcast coverage. Much of it negative. Numerous stories and comments have appeared that continue to describe Indy Car’s Versus cable network coverage as inadequate and doomed to ultimate failure, the television coverage itself, if not the entire series. The reasoning goes that without credible rating numbers, the sport cannot attract sufficient sponsorship funding to be a viable commercial venture. All of that is true. But it’s also wrong.
It’s so very “20th century” to believe that relatively passive television broadcasting of an event is sufficient to satisfy today’s marketing objectives. Simply broadcasting to a larger audience is not going to cure Indy Cars marketing challenges. More modern thinking will.
As an illustration of how to develop a modern motorsport marketing platform, from a marketing perspective, I would point to Ken Block. Who? Ken Block, the (now) rally driver. I think all might agree that his motorsport campaign receives, at best, modest traditional television coverage. He receives network coverage through the X-games, but that seems about all. He has been the subject of several feature oriented stories, but little commercial network, not much cable and certainly not much in the way of ratings to utilize as the basis for his marketing of the rally team. If he were to primarily rely on television rating numbers, his rally car would be painted vanilla white, with not a sponsor to be found – like many of his rally predecessors. In fact, I tried to sell some “rally” oriented sponsorship 15 -20 years ago, with no results. From the traditional standpoint, rallying is a virtual “impossible” to sell to sponsors, particularly back then.
Yet, traditional he is not. What he has accomplished should be a lesson to every race team, including Indy Car teams, looking for the combination that will bring positive marketing results to their sponsor partner campaign. Consider his numbers that are relevant, viable and most importantly, marketing potent. As of this writing:
• His facebook friends number 1,472,643. Danica, Indy Cars biggest star, has 25,357. Helio has 7,110. The Indy Car series itself numbers 39,365.
o Danica’s, Helio’s and Indy Car’s combined friends equal about 5% of Block’s.
• Ken Block’s YouTube videos totally destroy any comparison to Indy Car. His top three viral videos on YouTube number 30,500,229, 25,058,188 and 22,855,603 views. By comparison, Danica Patrick scores highest as might be expected with 2,602,479 for her SI swimsuit video and 1,689,547 views on her Godaddy.com commercial.
o Block’s Gymkhana 2 video was 2009’s #4 most viewed viral video.
o Block’s Gymkhana 3 video got more than seven million views in its first week.
• If you Google “Ken Block” you get 11,400,000 returns. Compare that to “Danica Patrick” 5,300,000, Helio Castroneves 540,000 or “Indy” and you get 145,000.

So, picture yourself a marketing man. You’re being pitched on sponsorship of a certain property, be it an Indy car team (as an example) or Ken Block (hypothetically). Ken has a rally program that features limited “traditional” media compared to Indy Car’s television coverage, albeit on Versus, but it is national television cable coverage. But Block is not selling television coverage, or at least not relying on it. TV is merely a piece of a larger pie and a by-product of a multi-layered media campaign. What he has developed and is developing is a relevant, smart, interactive, modern and exciting platform of motorsport to offer sponsors. He utilizes today’s “media” choices extremely well and has extended his influence far beyond what might be reached via television coverage alone. His videos are creative, visual and entertaining. The response to them has been, in a word, sensational. His viral videos are among the top viewed on the internet, period. Now, you’re that marketing guy at a sponsor desk and you’ve just been presented with these kinds of numbers, this kind of interactive relationship, this level of commercial platform viability and you have to choose. Block or the Indy Car team……

Ken Block’s approach is basically available to all of motorsports with the proper and creative application of a modern outlook on motorsport marketing. It’s not easy, mind you. Block’s challenge now is to keep it fresh and relevant. It’s extremely difficult to be that creative and stay that creative, but in fundamental terms, we all can duplicate what Ken has done. I believe that Versus is not the problem. In fact, their coverage of Indy Car racing is quite commendable. Maybe it could be better, but that is not the debate here. 20th century thinking is.

I would advise all of us in motorsport to seriously consider the strategies employed by motorsport campaigns such as Ken Block’s. Many kudos to him and his marketing team for creating this level of sponsor success. If motorsports were to adopt as much of his strategy as possible, the television debate would be cured as well. Ratings would surge as the popularity of the sport soared among FANS, not passive television viewers.

Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Take a quick look at Block’s rally car. It’s covered with sponsors. I hope and trust he can keep it going with fresh and quality creative. In the meantime, I suggest we all follow his lead and re-think the process of attracting sponsors. It’s 2011 and there is so much that can be done.

Visit our website at http://www.mackeymarketing.com

April 11, 2011

A New Day in Motorsports

by Brian C. Mackey
Mackey Marketing Group, Inc.

Recently, a thoughtful article appeared on the internet that questioned the seemingly counterproductive strategy employed by the ALMS in regards to their television package, particularly the recent 12 Hours of Sebring. The article was taken down by its author once it became unintentionally a viral lightning rod that sparked numerous responses, both pro and con. Therefore, I can’t reference it within this article context.

However, from my perspective, now some twenty-five years on in the motorsport marketing business, one simple element has been missing from many of these similar and parallel discussions. While something is wrong with motorsports, many look for answers from the same well of options. While most can agree that motorsports’ commercial appeal has declined in recent years, the solution that is often mentioned overlooks the root cause.

The simple fact remains is that what once worked in the motorsport marketing business, now doesn’t. Or at least not sufficiently to alter the course of motorsports’ decline. This challenge is not limited to one series, one kind of motorsport, be it Indy Car, ALMS, NHRA or NASCAR, or even Formula One. The problem rests with the sports’ inability to fully grasp that “exposure” is essentially a benefit of the past. Companies that sponsor events, including motorsports and race cars, have moved far beyond the concept that their brand is receiving “top of mind” awareness and building “exposure” as a means to justify the commercial investment in splashing their logo on a sporting event or race car. Where 25 years ago, I could call upon companies and occasionally convince them to place a sticker on an entry in the Indy 500 because “every sports publication, every sports page, every TV sports report, might display a picture or a mention of the commercial affiliation” will no longer carry the same weight in a 21st century marketing environment.

Exposure is not the problem, whether on TV, at the events, or anywhere else. I would contend that media coverage of motor racing, including most specifically television, is quite expansive, particularly compared to 25 years ago. In today’s technology-filled world, exposure is relatively cheap and often far cheaper to attain than the cost of motorsport participation, which obviously, if the commercial model is to succeed, is the amount of money needed for race teams to compete. This gap is essentially today’s sponsorship problem.

To fully understand the issue, I suggest one looks back a few years to the mid to late 1980s, to a time when NASCAR was fully engaged in developing a powerhouse that still carries a remarkable, if not a bit strained in recent seasons, impact and scale of commercial support that seemed unlikely at best, unbelievable at worst, to those who viewed the phenomenon from the outside. “Who would spend millions of dollars to put a logo on the side of a race car?” would be the familiar and uninformed refrain. It wasn’t then, and it most certainly isn’t now, primarily about the amount of publicity a company would receive as a result of painting their corporate colors on what was then a “Winston Cup” car.

The problem is that during those heady days of explosive growth for NASCAR, and everywhere else, is that many of us THOUGHT that exposure was the driving force behind the commercial appeal. We as an industry seemed to rely on it and embraced it. And a lot of sponsorship was sold as a result of it. Rest assured, I’m not suggesting that exposure is not a benefit of sponsoring a race car. What I am saying is that exposure is not the underlying reason for motorsports’ success and growth during that period. Exposure was more simply a by-product of it and a means to measure it, as in the number of people in the racing audience. An audience’s reach does not automatically equate to its ability to interact and influence it.

The real reason for NASCAR’s success was quite simple. It was the fans.

I recall attending a marketing seminar back then where they played a video of a television report that, with some tongue-in-cheek and a chuckle, documented NASCAR fans loyalty to sponsors. The audience snickered at these “good ol’ boys” (and women) who wore sponsor adorned t-shirts and insisted their families purchase “Tide” detergent. But when the lights came up, the seminar presenter reminded the audience that while we may find this level of involvement to be a bit amusing, it was precisely the kind of relationship that we all would want to aspire to achieve if we were to realize similar success for sponsorship and event marketing. In a similar vein, I recall some research from that era, that indicated that some 30% of the television audience that viewed a specific race on TV responded that they purchased a NASCAR sponsored product advertised during that telecast ( and I’ve never forgotten the terminology used), PURELY due to the sponsorship of the race car. PURELY. 30+%. Forget all the other advertising, NASCAR fans bought the product PURELY due to the NASCAR involvement. And that dear readers is why Madison Avenue signed on with gusto.

NASCAR had a unique relationship with its fans that drove the success. The sponsors of these drivers were more than anonymous participants. They weren’t obscure or distant strangers. They were fellow enthusiasts sharing in the success of a favorite driver through interactive marketing campaigns that featured their participation. NASCAR fans weren’t concerned about watching the race on TV, even though they did in increasing numbers, nor did they attend all the races, even as they traveled to more and more of them. But what they did do was essential. They purchased products. It wasn’t the television exposure that did that. It was the people who watched it.

Fast forward 25 years. What can be done today to revive the stagnant if not fading marketing effectiveness of this sport? I contend that the answer does not lie in the past. We can no longer rely on the tools we have used that traditionally “seemed” to be the answer. That means “exposure” is not going to lead the charge. It may provide a sampling of benefit but must reflect just one piece of the pie, not the whole pie. But what will replace it? The answer must be to modernize our thinking to more reflect the times we are in. From that perspective, I applaud ALMS’ effort to forge new paths seeking the answers. While it may be debated whether they missed the mark with electing no “live” television coverage of their flagship event on any traditional broadcast outlet, I do think the basic underlying thinking is precisely spot-on. The mistakes of these initial efforts can be corrected, but the philosophy that initiated them must remain intact. Motorsports needs relevancy to new audiences if it is going to replicate the success achieved by NASCAR or even come close to it. Today, racing’s future is dependent upon our collective utilization of a modern array of marketing and communications tools that will accelerate the sport to new, younger and active audiences. And we must always strive to recreate the interaction between fan and sport that comes tantalizingly close to what NASCAR achieved over the past decades. I don’t believe that “exposure” oriented emphasis will accomplish that. It’s too passive and it’s too old school. Simply broadcasting a signal to more homes, rather than focusing on the relationship between the audience and the sport, is the all important and critical difference. In the future, it may well be too simple to say that network is better than cable, or that internet is too small to be a viable contender. Moving forward, the answer will lie in motorsports’ ability to influence a far greater proportion of a much more highly targeted audience, made as large as possible via a varied and disparate channel of interactive strategies, including television and other traditional motorsport marketing strategies, that results in a significant and measurable response for commercial partners. Fans must respond by interacting with sponsor products. To oversimplify, fans have to buy sponsor product and services, rather than the sponsor’s competitive brands. If the sport can document a strategy that clearly illustrates pathways to higher and higher levels of direct interaction between sport and fan, we’ll find the sport again leading the way in corporate support and activation. For a sport that likes to “push the envelope,” this new challenge is well within our capacity to accomplish. To me, it looks like the recent efforts of the ALMS as well as Indy Car suggest that we are indeed witnessing the beginning of a new day.

January 14, 2011

In defense of Versus. I’m a reluctant advocate.

Recently, an article appeared in a respected auto racing publication that unfairly, I believe, contended that the IndyCar’s television package was an albatross around the series neck. They indicated that the rating numbers were taking IndyCar in their words, “into oblivion.” I wrote a letter in response.

While you indicate that you are one of Indy Car’s staunchest critics of their television package, I seem on the other hand, to be one of their more reluctant advocates. This is not because I feel particularly oriented to being a cheering section for the Versus television package, but rather I’m one who subscribes to the idea that the television package is not the source of Indy Car’s basic problems. On the contrary, Indy Car seems to be addressing a number of issues of importance and the momentum of positive developments signals a change that brightens the prospects of 2011 and beyond. I believe in many ways, the television package will “fix itself” based upon the popularity of the series and not the other way around. Television won’t fix, can’t fix, IndyCar’s decline in popularity. ONLY IndyCar can do that.
Your recent article is I believe, a bit off track. Here’s why.
First, let me warn you that in one of my earlier lives, I was a salesman of television time for a local ABC television outlet. That is important to know because it gave me a quality understanding of ratings and more importantly, extensive experience in interpreting, some might say, spinning, the rating numbers in ways that served the best interests of the television station. I understood then, better than most, the meaning of television ratings and shares. I can “interpret” with the best of ’em.
Here another way to look at things – and as a former “salesman” of TV time, let me make some contrary observations and spin, I mean, interpret them in a way I would if I was selling Indy Car spot advertising:
– In the all important prime time, Versus is the number 3 sports cable network! Behind ESPN and ESPN2.
– Versus has a HIGHER prime time viewership average than Speed Channel!
– Versus has higher prime time viewership average than Speed, NFL Network, NBA TV, Golf Channel or MLB Network!
– Since 2007, Versus has GROWN nearly 20% in prime time. In that same time period, ESPN2 has actually lost nearly 4% of prime time viewership.
– Versus has grown faster since 2007 than ESPN (18%) or ESPN2 (-4%). Versus has grown 19%!
With numbers like these, how can you say that Versus is taking IndyCar into oblivion! It’s all in the interpretation! Yes, I know, I’ve cherry picked the numbers a bit, but that’s the point. Ratings are very susceptible to “spin” and to negatively “cherry pick” rating numbers is equally misleading. Ratings are very often “spin”, how else could we have so many #1 programs?!
I still believe that Versus is an adequate television broadcaster for IndyCar. More than this, they can be a strong partner who will promote and devote real focus on IndyCar as it reflects a “prime” sports property for the network. IndyCar can receive CONSISTENT attention and have regular and attractive time slots to broadcast the events and support programming. IndyCar needs fans and the fans are the ones who primarily tune into television coverage. Without fans, you will not now or ever achieve the kind of ratings growth needed that would allow IndyCar to grow beyond the relative modest audience size of Versus. Period.

Blog at WordPress.com.