There's a lot of traffic at the Daytona 500, and it's not just the cars. The race -- the 54th running of NASCAR's biggest event (Feb. 26 on Fox) -- has a near-record level of sponsor advertising, but also a lot of advertisements from NASCAR itself, which is promoting the race big-time this year. And for good reason.
For some time, the trend for NASCAR racers has been convergence of technology and appearance, so that it has become hard to tell a Ford Fusion apart from a Toyota Camry. Not anymore. This season, the cars will start looking more like what NASCAR used to be about -- stock production cars.
The association will launch a raft of ads around the Daytona 500 touting NASCAR and featuring the folksy voice of actor Neil Flynn, the janitor on the TV show “Scrubs.” The ads are slightly mocking comparisons of NASCAR with more (no pun intended) pedestrian sports. One shows NASCAR winners celebrating with abandon -- backflips off of their cars, post-win donuts, Champagne, fireworks -- versus other sports that have enacted rules to curtail excessive celebration. Another, touting NASCAR's Nationwide series, shows how NASCAR eschews farm leagues and a slow and gradual approach to bringing up talent, creating an up-and-comers versus proven veterans environment where anyone can win.
“Following a thrilling to-the-wire 2011 season, NASCAR wanted to build on our momentum by breaking new spots on the broadcast of our sport’s biggest event -- the Daytona 500,” said Kim Brink, NASCAR managing director of brand, consumer and series marketing, in a statement. “The advertisements are part of a series of spots in this year’s brand campaign, aimed at elevating the sport by demonstrating the key attributes that make NASCAR more than a game."
And then there are the sponsors, such as Sprint, Coca-Cola, Subway, and Ford. The latter, which is touting the new Mustang and by extension its online Mustang customizing site, went on Google+ Friday morning to have kind of a bicameral conversation with fans and press about the automaker's online Mustang customizer: The first part of the conversation was inside baseball (or maybe infield racing) with digital marketing types and geeks talking about what's under the hood…of Ford's customizing Web site.
The second part was fielding questions from real people about what's under the hood of Mustang -- people who actually go online and customize Mustangs and probably will watch the race, too. One of the guys, Bruce, said he'd customized about 30 Mustangs and used the images as wallpaper, which got thumbs-up all around from the Ford folks. That was actually the most interesting part of the video, aside from the ad.
Ford's ad shows the Mustang cruising down a street, changing colors and design, chameleon-like when seen by different admiring bystanders. Back to NASCAR's effort: The campaign carries a message that “Everything Else Is Just A Game” with messaging within each spot communicates the positioning of each individual NASCAR series or initiative.
Coca-Cola's ad has a bunch of top NASCAR racers distracted during a race by all the fans drinking Cokes. They all decide to pull off for their own. Farmers Insurance has an ad using its Farmer's Insurance university platform, where the students meet racer Kasey Kahne. Sprint's spot touting its NASCAR race app features driver Clint Bowyer and his obsession with karaoke. A NASCAR spokesperson told me that sponsorship activity is higher than the league has seen in recent years.