Driving Forces

From cologne to furniture to even fresh produce -- NASCAR is fast becoming a brand name off the track too

April 17, 2006|By DAN THANH DANG | DAN THANH DANG,SUN REPORTER

Coming to a mall near you: the Daytona 500.

No, not that Daytona 500, the so-called Great American Race. The Daytona 500 fragrance, which "embodies the confidence, power and intensity of the men daring enough to race in the ultimate adrenaline rush."

If cologne doesn't get your motor started, there's plenty more for the NASCAR lover in anyone.

Those in need of a heart-racing boost can check out In the Groove, the first Harlequin romance novel based on stock car racing. Families fixing for a cookout can stock up on NASCAR-brand hot dogs, smoked sausages and fresh produce. Women heading out for a fun night on the town might want to trade in their Juicy Couture for Track Couture tees and skirts. And those dressing to impress can strap on a $1,150 PRS516 Valjoux NASCAR watch by Tissot.

Marketing merchandise is nothing new in the world of sports. But the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is blazing a hot, new trail beyond the usual fan fare of hats, sweat shirts and key fobs into the larger realm of lifestyle marketing. By entering into a growing number of unusual business partnerships - such as with Elizabeth Arden, to create the Daytona 500 cologne - NASCAR is spreading its brand far beyond the racetrack.

The reasons why boil down to the numbers.

As the No. 1 live spectator sport with 17 of the top 20 attended events in the country, NASCAR boasts 75 million fans, according to marketing researcher Ipsos Insight. Stock car racing is the second most popular sport on television, trailing only pro football.

But the driving factor behind the scorching-hot stock car racing brand these days is its intensely passionate fans, who spend more than $2 billion on licensed NASCAR products every year, making it the leading sport in fan brand loyalty, according to Ipsos.

"NASCAR is extremely accessible," says Los Angeles branding expert Rob Frankel. "NASCAR makes a statement, which is a large part of its appeal. You don't get more basic than cars, young guys, pretty girls and going fast. It's everything affluent, over-marketed, hip, slick Madison Avenue is not. There's a rebelliousness to NASCAR. In a way, it's almost an anti-marketing thing.

"NASCAR celebrities dress down and they look like the type of people you'd meet at a neighborhood bar," Frankel says. "They're not high-brow and they're not pretentious. That accessibility really appeals to its fans. You don't have to be a marketing genius to harness that huge wave of popularity."

NASCAR has never been shy about its overt commercialization. Its race cars are billboards for sponsors and drivers have long promoted their sponsors' products. But while old NASCAR sponsors used to include companies such as Winston cigarettes, Skoal tobacco and CITGO fuel, today, more family-friendly companies such as Home Depot, Nextel, Target and General Mills have signed on. Its fans have embraced this change, buying NASCAR memorabilia and supporting the companies who sponsor their favorite drivers.

Active support

NASCAR research has shown that its fans are three times more likely to buy products associated with the race than products that aren't, says Andrew Giangola, director of business communications for NASCAR.

"Stock car racing is a very expensive sport," Giangola says. "It requires corporate funding. It requires sponsorship. So fans actively support NASCAR sponsors. That's part of the culture and sense of belonging fans have to NASCAR. Fans see it as a way of funding their driver."

And, as the race's fan base becomes more diverse - 40 percent are women and more than 15 percent are minorities - NASCAR is eager to please and profit from the loyal legion. Consider its efforts directed at women.

In February, Harlequin Enterprises in Toronto launched the first of several NASCAR-based romance novels. Two hundred thousand copies of Pamela Britton's In the Groove have been shipped to stores and the book is in its third printing.

Last year, Track Couture debuted its line of NASCAR shirts, skirts and hoodies for female fans. Next month, The Girls Guide to NASCAR hits bookstores and this summer, expect to see NASCAR swimsuits and a line of NASCAR boots, sling-backs and moccasins by Genius Fashions.

"Fans will see that little logo, gravitate toward it and buy it," says author Britton, whose next Harlequin racing book, On the Edge, is expected in September. "I've had women who said their husbands saw that little logo [and] bought them my book.

"I've been guilty of doing the same thing," says Britton, a longtime racing fan who lives near Redding, Calif. "I was in the produce section at Safeway and came across a stretchy bag with the logo on it. I said, `Ooh, NASCAR apples!' and I bought them."

That four-color logo is a huge draw for many of its fans.

Driving loyalty

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