Embracing NASCAR’s rich tradition and increased popularity, Dodge Motorsports, a division of DaimlerChrysler, and Golin/Harris capitalized on the brand recognition and equity behind Dodge to link its strong motorsports heritage to one of the most highly anticipated and historic moves in NASCAR Winston Cup history. The client-agency team was challenged with creating a campaign to generate awareness and excitement among key audiences while living up to the high expectations of the brand and NASCAR racing. In response, the team developed and executed the “Dodge 500” campaign, a 500-day countdown marking the brand’s highly anticipated return to NASCAR Winston Cup competition, after more than a 15-year absence.
Research shows that NASCAR attendance has increased nearly 65 percent in the 90s, with the NASCAR Winston Cup Series attracting more than 6.3 million people to its 33 events in 1999 alone. NASCAR’s television ratings have increased 26 percent since 1994, with total gross viewership near 190 million in 1998. Research revealed that corporate sponsorship spending on auto racing in North America was $1.2 billion in 1999, a sizable growth from $565 million in 1990. Corporate sponsors support racing because 72 percent of fans purchase NASCAR sponsored products over competing brands. Likewise, in the last eight years Dodge has completely transformed the brand into one of the hottest large volume brands in the automotive industry. Given the rising Dodge ownership base and current brand positioning, “Dodge Different,” it was time for the brand and its fans to go racing.
One of the challenges the program faced was maintaining interest among key audiences throughout the length of the campaign. We overcame this by hosting routine and timely announcements/events in an effort to keep the flow of information fresh and invigorating. Another challenge stemmed from the inability of some drivers and team owners to elaborate on their plans with Dodge due to existing sponsor obligations. To overcome this, we positioned one respected and widely recognized team owner (Ray Evernham), who had no sponsor conflicts, and several brand executives as the “face” and “voice” of Dodge’s efforts. This enabled us to provide media credible sources, adding integrity to the program and validating the brand’s commitment to excellence.
PLANNING AND STRATEGY
The first step in creating a public relations strategy for the Dodge Motorsports’ return was to create a strong media campaign. Working from a budget of $550,000, Dodge and Golin/Harris followed a strategic approach to its Winston Cup racing program by developing a 500-day schedule from the initial announcement to the 2001 Daytona 500, with events for each team and driver announcement and 100-day media milestones. This approach kept the Dodge story fresh and top-of-mind among sports and business media as it built momentum toward the Daytona 500. Golin/Harris created a “keepsake” press kit designed to accommodate materials from each milestone event during the 500-day countdown, which forms a complete review of the countdown once the campaign is completed. Dodge and Golin/Harris staged creative, unique events for each major announcement to break through the motorsports clutter and distributed b-roll packages to extend the coverage.
- Build awareness of and support for Dodge Motorsports’ return to NASCAR Winston Cup racing.
- Maintain momentum during the period when Dodge is not yet racing in NASCAR.
- Link Dodge’s proud heritage in motorsports and historical fan support with modern day race fans.
- Translate Dodge’s production vehicle engineering know-how and credibility to on-track expertise.
- Create excitement among DaimlerChrysler employees and Dodge dealers worldwide.
- Dodge owners, dealers and employees
- Third party influencers, including sports, automotive and business media
- Motorsports enthusiasts and potential Dodge owners
Create a non-traditional program that offers direct interaction with key audiences and reinforces the “Dodge Different” brand message.
Maintain interest and coverage by utilizing a 500-day countdown with 100-day media updates.
Increase credibility by using influential, recognizable spokespeople to deliver key messages.
Maintain a strong presence at all Winston Cup events and with key media in the period between the initial announcement and on-track presence.
Leverage opportunity to tell the Dodge brand story to the national business and marketing media.
Tell Dodge product and brand messages by bringing a select group of media “behind-the-scenes” to show development of the Dodge NASCAR Intrepid R/T racecar.
Each month of 2000, Dodge and Golin/Harris hosted announcements at either Winston Cup events or appropriate track venues to create a continued presence with media. To date, Dodge and Golin/Harris have hosted 14 media events; a sampling of those significant media events include:
Unveiling the Dodge Intrepid racecar at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit reaching employees, dealers and more than 3,500 international media in attendance.
Using the “Winners Circle” at Daytona International Speedway to announce the second and third teams and drivers. The event drew on the heritage of Dodge racing by featuring NASCAR legend and former Dodge driver Richard Petty as the key spokesperson.
Announcing at Atlanta Motor Speedway that popular driver Bill Elliott would join Dodge and Evernham Motorsports for the 2001 season. More than 200 media covered the event.
Hosting media for the racecar’s inaugural on-track test at Homestead-Miami Speedway in May 2000.
Hosting a Dodge Technology Tour at DaimlerChrysler Headquarters in August 2000, which provided designers and engineers an opportunity to show how the cross-functional platform team approach is used to manufacture the Dodge racecar.
Celebrating the one-year anniversary of Dodge’s return at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2000.
Creating the Dodge Garage weekly electronic newsletter for media, featuring comments from Dodge and Ray Evernham on current events in NASCAR, to help keep the story fresh and newsworthy.
Bringing national business and marketing media in for a “behind-the-scenes” look at building a NASCAR Winston Cup program. Each meeting included a tour of DaimlerChrysler’s Technology Center, a briefing on Dodge marketing efforts and interviews with key engineers and designers.
Delivering regular updates to DaimlerChrysler employees through stories on DCTV and DC Times, the in-house television show and newspaper.
Including dealers in local media events to share their perspectives and engage them in the excitement. Also providing regular updates and news clips to 3,000 Dodge dealers nationwide.
Dodge and Golin/Harris far exceeded all campaign objectives and expectations. Dodge’s return to Winston Cup racing was recently rated as one of the five most positive developments in NASCAR by Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and has been called the “biggest story in racing” by many national motorsports media. Results include:
More than 2,500 story placements in the national and local market sports and business media, totaling more than 250 million media impressions.
Media placements in broadcast and print outlets nationwide, including NBC, CBS and ABC network sports, CNBC, CNN/SI, ESPN, TNN, USA Today, Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, Wall Street Journal, New York Newsday and numerous motorsports magazines.
Every announcement generated extensive media coverage in each of the top 20 markets.
100 percent of media coverage contained at least one of the key brand messages.
100 percent of media coverage recognized this as a Dodge venture.
More than 80,000 fans logged onto the new Dodge Motorsports website in a three-day contest.
Employees are embracing the program, as Dodge Motorsports apparel and merchandise have become popular sellers in company stores.
Dealers are seeing increased traffic as consumers are beginning to visit Dodge dealers to see the Dodge Intrepid R/T passenger car.