The Race for Consumers

By Dana Dratch

Who would expect a golden anniversary in the sport of racing to present a golden opportunity for packaging?
Jim Doyle recalls sitting trackside at the Daytona 500 several years ago and hearing an announcement that it was the 46th running of the iconic American racing event.
That got him thinking about the big 5-0, which isn’t really out of character. Doyle is the CEO of Retail Sports Marketing, a consumer and retail promotion company targeting the sports and entertainment industries.
His idea? A major retail event to celebrate the anniversary and connect with loyal Daytona and NASCAR fans.
Doyle shared the idea with International Speedway Corp. senior vice president of marketing and business operations Roger VanDerSnick and, together, they approached the Kroger Company to partner in the event.
The Kroger team “got it” right away, Doyle says, and they hit on the idea of asking manufacturers to design special packaging to commemorate the anniversary. That’s how, he explains, “a promotion was born”.
 Beginning in July (when Daytona launched its 50th anniversary celebrations) and continuing through the race date, February 17, 2008, dozens of manufacturers are debuting Daytona 500 anniversary commemorative packaging that will be available exclusively at Kroger.
The road to a big idea
Because the anniversary was still a few years away when Doyle first thought to mark it, he had time to think big.
To begin, he knew a national grocery chain should be at the center of the action.
Fans of the Dayton 500 aren’t limited by regional loyalties. Known as the “Great American Race,” the event attracts fans from across the United States. The group also wanted a retailer that “would aggressively activate and promote it,” Doyle says. Kroger was “a natural choice”.
The length of the promotion was also important. Since the special packaging would go into stores in July and be there until February, that Daytona 500 association would be there for customers “day in, day out” for seven months.
VanDerSnick credits Kroger for bringing that element into the fold. “They believed they could, in a relatively short period of time, entice vendors into changing packaging.”
Start your engines
It took some time for the pieces of the promotion to finally fall into place, so when it came to actually planning and designing the anniversary packaging the brands were only given about three months to turn it around, according to Doyle.
But manufacturers seemed to relish the challenge.
“When it comes to Kroger and their mega-scale events, you want to say ‘yes,’. They do the execution very well,” says Todd Hudgens, a shopper marketing manager for Unilever. “When we [participate], we see great lifts for our brand and for the category.”
Every brand taking part in the promotion started with roughly the same toolbox: a Daytona 500 50th Anniversary logo and a treasure trove of images from the race’s archive. But the results were as different as the products themselves.
For Ritz crackers, the Nabisco company hit on the idea of a four-box collectible series featuring great moments from past Daytona 500 races.
“The assumption is that consumers who have a fondness for NASCAR might be more inclined to grab a package,” says Laurie Guzzinati, spokesperson for the Nabisco Brands division of Kraft Foods.
The company put all four designs out at the same time “so that fans can collect them with one trip to the store,” she says.
“They were really smart with it,” says Doyle. “They tapped into the overall value of the Daytona 500 and converted it to their brand.”
The presentation was also impressive, he says, adding, “the back of the box could be a poster.”
Designers for Totino’s commemorative pizza box also went for a big impact. On the front of the box: the copy “Rev Up the Fun,” with the Daytona 500 logo and a large photo of driver Bobby Labonte, whom the company sponsors. On the back is a cut-and-assemble model race car.
“For us, [the decision to participate] happens at the brand level,” says Alison Miller, a marketing manager for General Mills. “They said, ‘We really want to get behind it. Why don’t we do something fun?’”.
But there was a challenge inherent to the category—the fact that the freezer door stands between the packaging and the shopper. To overcome that, Totino’s devoted a big portion of the box front to the Daytona 500. “We tried to use the real estate,” says Miller. “That’s the largest area [we’ve] given for a promotion.”
Other products have an easier time of it. With Sparkle paper towels, for instance, the product itself functions “like a billboard” for marketing messages, says Joseph Stempien, a senior brand manager for Georgia-Pacific Corporation, which makes Sparkle.  
And the company designed its commemorative packaging to make the most of it.
“It’s very simple—impactful,” says Doyle. “With a white background, that Daytona 500 logo pops off really well.”
For Pillsbury, whose Grands! biscuits and Ready to Bake cookies are participating in the program, a small package meant doing more with less. Both brands carry the Daytona 500 anniversary logo and the iconic checkered flag pattern as well.
“It’s a universally recognized design that people attribute to racing,” Miller says. The combination of that with the Daytona logo “draws more excitement,” she says.
The checkered pattern also inspired other promotional efforts. Unilever’s Breyer’s brand, for instance, changed the name of its checkerboard chocolate-and-vanilla combo to “Checkered Flag,” while the company’s Klondike brand renamed one of its popular flavors “The NASCAR Bar” and put driver Kasey Kahne, whom it sponsors, on the box.
Who is the NASCAR fan?
For many of the manufacturers, the idea of a Daytona 500 promotion was a natural because they already sponsor NASCAR teams and drivers. In fact, racing exists largely because of corporate sponsorships.
But the fans reward them for it. Unilever’s Hudgens says consumers are “very savvy as to which company’s support the sport”.
A NASCAR fan is three times more likely to try and purchase a sponsor’s products or services, says VanDerSnick. And fans that actually attend NASCAR events are “twice as loyal as the average Nascar fan,” he says. “You’re really going after the sweet spot of the NASCAR fan and the customer who is more likely to be brand loyal.” he says.
Demographically, the NASCAR fan base is a good fit for many of the manufacturers as well. NASCAR estimates that fans are 55 percent male and 45 percent female. “It’s almost gender neutral,” says Nancy Davis, a shopper marketing manager with Unilever who oversees the company’s NASCAR involvement. “The majority of our products appeal to mom and the family—so there’s a good fit there.”
No longer just a southeastern institution, diehard NASCAR fans are a nationwide trend, with some of the fastest growth coming in the Northwest. The sport appeals to young and old, in a variety of income levels. “One in three adults is a NASCAR fan,” says VanDerSnick. That adds up to about 75 million people nationwide.
These days, you’re more likely to see “moms with young kids at the Busch Series” events, says Davis. And with some event ticket prices going for $100 to $150, it also attracts a more affluent clientele.
Enthusiasts also aren’t afraid to spend money on related merchandise. The average fan will spend about $1,200 annually on NASCAR paraphernalia, according to Davis.
“We were already involved with NASCAR and understood the power of the sport and the loyalty of NASCAR fans. More than in any other sport [they] are loyal to the sponsors,” says Miller, whose company supports Richard Petty’s Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge. “This was a great chance to celebrate 50 years of the Great American Race.”
Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.