Integrated Media Guide 2009

Ad Age Integrated Media Guide

NASCAR: Driving Social Media

New options put brand in the driver's seat

Since 2007, Miss Sprint Cup has been a tireless ambassador for NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. Wearing a Sprint-branded driver's suit, Miss Sprint Cup travels to various NASCAR races throughout the country almost every weekend, interviewing drivers at different areas of the track and joining the celebration at the winner's circle. But earlier this year, Miss Sprint Cup's marketing efforts on behalf of NASCAR and title sponsor Sprint kicked into high gear—thanks to social media.

"When social media started to bubble up in early '08, we thought, 'Here's a woman living a lifestyle that [NASCAR] fans would die to be part of—hanging out in the garage area, meeting drivers at pre-race festivities," says Tim Considine, general manager, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series sponsorship. "But it hit another level this summer."

Last spring Sprint introduced new Facebook and Twitter accounts allowing Miss Sprint Cup to communicate in real time with NASCAR fans. During race weekends, Miss Sprint Cup updates her Facebook and Twitter pages roughly 20 times. "What's amazing is the level of response; every time she posts there's 80, 90, 120 responses from fans, 98 percent positive," Mr. Considine says. "It enables us to reach an audience less endemic to [auto] racing."

As of early November, Miss Sprint Cup's Twitter account had 4,400 followers, while her Facebook page had attracted 48,000 fans. Miss Sprint Cup's personal blog,
which runs on the Community page of NASCAR.com, had generated 47,000 followers, or people who opted to become members of her blog (with more than 2.8 million
profile views).

"We're not out there having Miss Sprint Cup talk about the latest sale price on the new BlackBerry device," Mr. Considine says. "But, let's say Miss Sprint Cup takes a picture with her new BlackBerry Tour, uploads it to Facebook and mentions the device in the photo caption. The handset gets mentioned in a very real way, and we've shown some of the device's capabilities without it feeling like a product pitch."

Walker Jacobs, senior VP-ad sales for Turner Sports Entertainment Digital, a media partner of NASCAR, adds: "I like how Sprint uses our community to activate their ambassadors' at-track presence week to week. It ties online engagement to at-track fan engagement, with Sprint sitting in the middle."

Amid growing media fragmentation, NASCAR remains a solid example of an integrated marketing vehicle for consumer brands, providing advertisers with an opportunity to align and weave their messages with what amounts to a moving billboard that's at low risk of getting zapped by the DVR. For years, NASCAR sponsors have been integrated in a variety of ways with the sport—from on-air buys and sponsored cars to online promotions and events. Social media represents the latest frontier.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, with 36 races this year, has averaged 6.7 million TV viewers per event. In addition to the Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR's two other major venues are the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series.

NASCAR is the second-highest-rated regular sport on television, after the NFL, according to Nielsen Media Research. More than 100 Fortune 500 companies are involved with NASCAR—the most of any sport. And many, if not all, of them are eager to harness the unyielding passion fans have for NASCAR with social media, along with NASCAR's media partners ABC/ESPN, Fox, SPEED and TNT/Turner as well as radio outlets MRN, PRN and Sirius XM.

"In the last year, everything has really changed" regarding social media, says Ramsey Poston, managing director of corporate communications for NASCAR, adding that the association is just scratching the surface with social networking.

Take NASCAR Says, which was added to NASCAR.com in February. The link includes separate Twitter and Facebook accounts for all of the NASCAR teams, blogs from racing crews, video, polls, fan profiles and chat rooms.

"When you couple TV with in-person marketing with an average of 110,000 fans [attending each race], you've got a powerful one-two punch," Mr. Poston says. "Social-media aspects help to sew those two components even tighter."

Among those who use social media during a live NASCAR race, more than half want to receive updates on links to breaking new stories about NASCAR, such as real-time updates from the pit and commentary from NASCAR drivers and team members, according to the 2009 NASCAR Fan Council survey.

UPS, the official express delivery carrier for NASCAR since 2000, has used social media this year to help spark interest in race car driver David Ragan, who in September 2008 signed a three-year deal to lead the UPS Racing Team.

"We thought this would give us an opportunity to branch out and experiment a little bit with some of these social media tools, allowing us to connect David with a whole new generation of UPS racing fans," says Mark Dickens, PR manager for UPS. Mr. Ragan keeps his fans in the loop via UPS' Twitter feed, the UPS Racing Web site and the UPS Racing Facebook page; the updates also feature snippets from UPS' TV commercials starring Mr. Ragan.

NASCAR's media partners are also building new social media platforms online to grow their base of fans and sponsors.

ESPN.com, for instance, has added new digital outlets to respond to the growing trend among fans who watch races on TV and simultaneously talk about them via social media, says Rob King, VP-editor in chief, ESPN Digital Media.

A new multiuser interactive live chat tool, for instance, enables race fans to interact with ESPN analysts during races. It also melds Twitter feeds, analyst/reporter chats, instant polling, video/audio posting and questions submitted by fans.

"NASCAR fans are accustomed to finding news and information about their favorite drivers and favorite teams in a lot of different venues," Mr. King says. "They are very accustomed to chatting, e-mailing and blogging as a form of communication and information gathering. So, for us it was a real business imperative, especially a content imperative, to be embracing these forms of social media in order to serve these fans."

SPEED, which distributes a slew of NASCAR programs, such as "NASCAR Race Day" and "NASCAR Performance", is also making inroads with social media.

"For us, it is serving our fans better and allowing people to participate in their chosen community," says Kevin Annison, VP digital and interactive media for SPEED, whose digital assets include SPEEDtv.com, SPEED Mobile and SPEED on Demand.

In September SPEED, in partnership with NASCAR.com and Turner Sports, introduced a new broadband channel that includes three original webisode series, event coverage, "shoulder" programming and other original content.

SPEEDtv.com in October rolled out My SPEED, a new social networking link to the Web site that allows users to create custom user profiles and personalized Web pages, post blogs and photos, and interact with other users. "Once you're able to scale the community, you can start monetizing it," Mr. Annison says.

SPEED is currently mulling ways to enable marketers to reach niche audiences via new Facebook and Twitter accounts, depending on specific aspects of auto racing.

"Within Facebook, we might wrap a sponsor around a specific program, such as 'Victory Lane,' sponsored by X," Mr. Annison says. "We can create a branded environment for a sponsor to ride along most of our programs. It's a great way to connect a very passionate fan with a sponsored message."