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The Evolution of NASCAR Marketing

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Stuffy is a sports fan that has been around longer than dirt, so his thoughts have deep roots, in his opinion.

Learn about the history of NASCAR's marketing strategy.

Learn about the history of NASCAR's marketing strategy.

It Started by Movin' Shine

I wish I had a subject like this one back in my days of studying marketing in university because it makes for an interesting case study about something I have grown up with. Over time, I have been able to watch the changes that have taken place firsthand.

It is interesting to note that NASCAR found its beginnings in a bunch of "good old boys" who were peddling uncontrolled stimulants and used their "racing cars" as transportation to various distribution points throughout the south. Over time, a more controlled approach to slinging stimulants came about. They were still a very good source of cash infusions to fund the costs of running a racing team.

Back in the start moonshine was probably enough to keep the seat-of-the-pants operators running cars around ovals for fun and gaining spectators that ultimately became the buyers of all things related to NASCAR. There's no doubt, however, that the stimulants played a part as well. Real NASCAR buffs will also correct me at this point noting that it was not called NASCAR back in those days, but the basic structure hasn’t changed since it has largely been controlled by one boss family throughout its lifespan.

Life Cycle of NASCAR

Every student of marketing learns about the life cycle of a product and that it isn’t infinite without some sort of new controls being put into place. NASCAR has been a master of utilizing control in that time span so its product remains alive, but one can argue that interest is now diminishing. So, expect another new approach to the sport soon to prolong its life cycle.

Stock car racing in the south was a lot about racing on Sunday and selling on Monday. This helped market the brand of car raced to the general public (mostly to lower and middle-income customers). But the cars today really only have a name tag that resembles the showroom car, so that one is getting harder to pull off. The key funders of this type of racing (and really all types of racing) are the sponsors that you see emblazoned all over the cars and anything else that can have an advertising label stuck on it somehow. The products need to match the customer base closely, otherwise the sponsorship dries up quickly.

NASCAR and Brands

So, brands like Budweiser, Miller, Folgers, Mountain Dew, Maxwell House, Camel, Lucky Strike, Chesterfield, and Marlboro started to appear on the cars, and what they all have in common is they are all stimulants or controlled drugs that one can buy over the counter. There were other brands like Quaker State, Valvoline, Interstate Batteries, NAPA, Havoline, Goodwrench, Tide, Clorox, Hooters, Kodak, STP, Wrangler, Kmart, Target, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, and others that were all part of the grouping that targeted the reasonably wide range of NASCAR fans.

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Over time, the non-stimulant groupings have become more of secondary sponsors, while the cigarette folks having been legislated out of favor and a lot of the general household products just moved on, went out of business, or weren’t profitable enough to continue. There are certainly some exceptions today—like Lowes—but one wonders how long that will last when Jimmy Johnson hangs up his helmet.

NASCAR and Sponsorship

Major sponsorship went from one addiction (nicotine) to another in cellphone service providers in Sprint to now energy drinks in Monster. Lots of other stimulants are holding their own in energy drinks, like caffeine boosted Mountain Dew and Coke, but the coffee makers seem to have dwindled away since they are all trying to sell their product now at Starbucks pricing which is a bad match for the NASCAR fan base. Products like Crown Royal whiskey made a brief appearance but disappeared since they were a bad match for the customer base.

Clearly, NASCAR is attempting to control their destiny by catering to a younger market but their product seems to be losing momentum based on crowd and entry field sizes and of course sponsorships. They even try too hard to control the actual races by making the cars all the same and even trying to control the crew chiefs and drivers by various fines and suspensions but that is a subject for another case study I think. Mother Nature has showed how it can control them as well since whenever it rains the whole circus shuts down until the weather clears up. Goodyear has it in their power to make tires for those conditions and ones that would last a lot longer but NASCAR likes segments in everything now. Lots of pit stops, break the race into 3 parts, and split the TV coverage over the season to maximize revenue I guess. These approaches don’t seem to be working so well and time will tell if the life cycle of the product NASCAR can survive with their current direction. But that is another case study I think.

I am old school and really miss the days of the true stock car racing when good old boys showed up with basically stock street cars with better tires and went out “beatin’ and a-bangin” but the money that NASCAR has generated over the years has been the driving force behind what has made them successful. Let’s just hope the current folks don’t kill the “golden goose” with their attempts at too much control. I think they have to loosen that a lot to get back the charm of the good old boys that were the Earnhardt’s, Waltrips, Labonte’s, Pearson’s, Petty’s and Yarborough’s, just to name a few from one era of when the sport was worthy (in my opinion).

But the sport cannot exist without sponsorship and so the stimulant suppliers seem to be the best source of revenue for the teams since they have the profit base and need of advertising to promote their products. One can only guess if similar advertising restrictions came along to the current liquid stimulants that the cigarette industry got slapped on them then where would NASCAR be in that environment. And really, where would sports be without sponsorship since it is all part of the business of sports now. I like the old way better and I don’t buy much in the way of stimulants so I really don’t matter much to NASCAR. Just sharing some thoughts is all.

Y’all have a wunnerful day!!


CJ Kelly from the PNW on September 28, 2018:

Great job. When I'm watching a race, my wife will often ask me about the sponsors and all the ads on the cars. Endless topic. Thanks.

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