Mackey Marketing Group Weblog

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.

November 10, 2010

MACKEY MARKETING OFFERS AUGMENTED REALITY CAPABILITY THROUGH MARKETING PARTNERSHIP

Mackey Marketing Group announces the addition of the Christopher Paul Group of the UK to its growing and trend-setting marketing affiliations. This U.S. exclusive marketing arrangement offers the ground breaking and revolutionary technology of augmented reality capability to Mackey Marketing’s 21st century approach to motorsport marketing.
“I firmly believe that augmented reality is one of the most exciting new developments to motorsport marketing in many, many years,” offered Brian Mackey, president of Mackey Marketing Group. “It’s a game changer and we’re excited about the potential this new technology can have for motorsport marketers and partners who want to engage the racing fan in new and innovative ways. It will enhance the benefits to levels heretofore unthinkable. As you get your hands around this new technology, the opportunities and applications are virtually endless.”
“We at the Christopher Paul Group would like to add that we are delighted to be working with Mackey Marketing Group as our sole partner in the USA and we look forward to a long and successful business venture,” added Gary Chadwick, managing director of the Christopher Paul Group, Ltd.
Imagine pointing your cell phone at a race car passing by and with augmented reality, a full bio of the car, team, driver or sponsor is displayed on your cell phone; or perhaps it might be where to purchase sponsor products, or the nearest sponsor outlet, or coupon. Augmented reality is a developing technology that enables the user’s device, whether computer or smart phone, to “identify” the object with the device’s camera aimed at a “marker”, which then triggers an interactive and digitally usable enhancement of the “reality” the camera focused on. It opens a level of potential uses that is as varied as the imagination might devise, from the race track to the user’s home computer. Augmented reality is positioned to become as common as the cell phone itself, or the laptop computer.
This new affiliation joins a list of powerful marketing partnerships that makes Mackey Marketing Group one of the leading agencies for advancing the applications and benefits that can be derived from motorsport marketing. Some of the marketing affiliations Mackey Marketing Group has developed include Brand Thunder, leaders in the creation of functional, custom designed web browser themes; RocketBux, a text marketing communications firm that enables race fans to text an opt-in message to receive sponsor offers and benefits directly to their cell phone. These offers might include sponsor coupons that can be downloaded directly to the cell phone and in some cases, saved and then scanned from the phone itself at the sponsor retailer’s point of purchase.
Additionally, Mackey Marketing Group works with the developers of the Venue transformable hospitality unit. This state of the art, fully custom-designed hospitality vehicle offers capabilities for on-site hospitality at race events that features more advanced levels of service and VIP entertainment capability than traditionally utilized.
“Today’s motorsport marketing is at a new level of sophistication,” said Mackey. “We are seeing advanced technologies that introduce new methods for marketers to reach race fans. Motor racing has always been a leader in event marketing strategies and with these new technologies at hand, we rewrite and revitalize the benefits of motorsport marketing in ways I could never have imagined when I started my agency in 1986.”
Companies utilizing motorsports as a marketing function are encouraged to contact Mackey Marketing Group to commence development of a custom designed motorsport marketing strategy that can include these remarkable new technologies as part of their overall motorsport marketing promotion. Mackey Marketing Group is a veteran specialist firm that has been active in the motorsport marketing arena for nearly twenty five years and is headquartered in Marietta, GA, near Atlanta. For more information on the agency as well as its marketing partnerships visit http://www.mackeymarketing.com.

October 21, 2010

Versus vs. something other than Versus

by Brian C. Mackey, Mackey Marketing Group.

I find it interesting that when NASCAR’s current decline in popularity is reported, including the recent announcement of the Daytona 500 Experience closure, it is reported as due to the economy or other element. The television coverage is not often included among the rationale despite a current ratings downdraft. The content of a NASCAR televised event is subject to the debate, but not the television distribution capability itself. The reason is rather obvious; NASCAR has essentially a strong television package foundation. It is particularly strong when compared to other motorsport series. Yet when describing Indy Cars decline, the Versus television package is nearly always mentioned as a major, if not primary reason, for Indy Cars current malaise. As I have often written in various articles including Autoracing1.com, Indy Cars television package is not the primary reason for their predicament. It is merely the symptom of a much larger problem.
Here again is my basic premise. Television coverage does not “create” fans sufficiently economically to warrant spending the necessary funding to broadcast Indy Cars on major network television on a regular basis (see CART), whether the broadcast funding comes from the network or the sanctioning body. If Indy Car were to be broadcast on network television today, it would continue to battle low ratings, albeit larger than can be achieved by Versus alone, but not on par with other sporting alternatives. The fact remains that Indy Cars popularity among race fans has declined. This regrettable situation appears to broaden to include the number of race fans in general, as they also appear to be in a similar downward spiral and the real crisis facing racing series today.
Television “merely” broadcasts events. Like any television programming, it relies on its ability to attract viewers to justify the investment to broadcast. Popular programming is profitable. Unpopular ones are not. The audience must have an interest in watching. Regardless of what network the races are broadcast, no level of technological and sophisticated broadcast wizardry will ever succeed until there is a willing audience of fans to watch it.
That is the reason why I believe the various race series should focus their energies on creating new fans, primarily from the events themselves, in order to carve out a sizable and passionate base of race fans. They in turn will watch the events on television. No fans. No ratings. No future; whether on Versus, Speed, ABC or anywhere else. To paraphrase, it’s the fans stupid.
The Versus television agreement with Indy Car is a realistic and appropriate level of television coverage for Indy Cars current level of popularity. The story line shows it is growing and increasingly gaining viewers. Until it reaches a plateau where regular major commercial television coverage is warranted, it is precisely the kind of programming we should expect and bottom line, support.

Mackey Marketing Website: http://www.mackeymarketing.com

August 31, 2010

The Track We’re On.

It’s been recently announced with some fanfare that a major motor racing sanctioning body is going to commence a new department to focus on new integrated marketing and communications strategies. Wow, that’s nice. Not to take the wind from their sails and with a bit of modesty we’d like to point out that Mackey Marketing Group has been working on developing similar new capabilities for quite some time. Under our banner umbrella of “making racing work”, we understood that racing’s future growth and relevancy is tied to development of new marketing and communications channels that will bring 21st century innovation to a sport that is in need of new thinking and creative input.
Obviously, Mackey Marketing is just a boutique agency and our impact and scale is but a small fraction of what a multi-billion dollar enterprise can and will undertake. But we are already doing what I think others in the industry will soon find are actionable strategies that will lead them to offer similar sorts of solutions in the communication and marketing space. Developments like our marketing partnership with Brand Thunder, developers of functional, custom-designed and branded web browsers, or our affiliation with RocketBux, a mobile texting and virtual coupon solution that puts actionable response capability directly into the hands of race fans in real time and immediate return on a sponsor’s call to action. These are new and creative outlets that race teams and race sponsors can use now to more fully offer modern and effective new ways to keep the fan interested and motivated via the promotional platform of motorsports.
So, in a manner of speaking, we welcome to our quest our fellow racing colleagues. We welcome them to the track we’ve been on for nearly a year. It’s nice to have some company. With more and more entities of the motorsport industry following a similar path to the future, and with perhaps a little input from our creative selves drawn from our noted head start, the collective strength and compounded improvement to the sport of motor racing will result in a thorough revitalization of the sport’s marketing and promotional capabilities. That is a worthy goal.
For now though, it’s great to see you in our rear view mirror!
This kind of innovative thinking is what we are focused on at Mackey Marketing Group. With others joining on a similar quest for innovation, it is further proof that our “making racing work” campaign is precisely the right direction, the proper focus and the best solution for our agency and our clients moving forward.

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