Stock car racing icon Richard Petty was at the Hudson Theatre near New York’s Times Square as part of an event to announce renewal of Smithfield Foods' multi-year sponsorship of Petty Motorsports.
Smithfield is increasing its financial support by 50%, including sponsorship of the 43 Fusion driven by Aric Almirola for 29 Sprint Cup races this year, versus 15 in 2012 and 25 last year. The car has "Smithfield" across the hood, and on the car's rear section between the tail-lights, which is where TV cameras tend to focus, is the crisp message, "Powered by Bacon."
Larry Pope, the CEO of Smithfield, said the company stepped in to grab a sponsorship opportunity with the best-known NASCAR racing brand when Petty's last major sponsor left in 2012.
"I love racing," says Pope, who grew up in Daytona Beach, Fla. and used to go to races at the track. "But it's about money: I said as long as you help me sell bacon, ham and sausage, we'll do well. Our track is the retail store."
Smithfield, the world's largest pork processor, has for several years been focused on building awareness for its Smithfield, Eckrich, Farmland, Gwaltney, and Nathan's brands. Pope tells Marketing Daily that the commitment has paid off, and the company has seen significant increases in sales of its brands' products 4 to 16 weeks prior to a race and for the same period after.
"We have only been doing this a couple of years, so the question is -- will we pick up sales in the remaining 40 weeks of the year?” he says. “But we look at surveys that show consumers recognize us now -- recognize we are in racing and appreciate it. We are seeing big changes in our reputation as a consumer brand. We have validated the ability of the team and the sport to connect our brand and products both to fans and customers. It translates to sales at the finish line, which for us is the cash register."
Pope said Smithfield five years ago launched branding strategies to take it out of the commodity world and into "a recognized national landscape of brands." Initially, he said, the effort centered on promotions. Then it did more direct communications to consumers through programs like sponsorship of celebrity chef Paula Deen. "Then we looked at the male side of it, which for us was racing. The next step is to get consumers not just trying our products but buying them every day."
He said NASCAR and Petty Motorsports bring the company geographical reach, since racing teams aren't regional the way football or basketball teams are, and it's year-long, rather than seasonal.
Petty recalled that consumer brands had not always been a NASCAR staple. He reminded attendees that STP was the first sponsor nationally, followed by oil filter company Purolator. "Then, everyone said, 'it's bigger than what we think,' and that started a revolution of sponsors and partners coming in. Because of the economy, that has been flat for two or three years, but when Smithfield steps up, it gets everyone's attention. It helps other investors come in."
For its part, NASCAR has just launched the next-generation race car. It has been many moons since NASCAR meant stock cars, but the new car gives automakers much more design leeway in terms of how the sheet metal looks. Almirola’s car, for example, has the Ford Fusion front grill and rear design elements.