- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

From post-apocalyptic mutants chasing Dale Earnhardt Jr. to grocery shopping with Tony Stewart, NASCAR sponsors are rolling out some of their biggest campaigns of the year for tomorrow’s Daytona 500.

While the Super Bowl reigns as the supreme advertising event, with companies paying upward of $2.5 million for a 30-second spot, many sponsors are going all-out for Daytona by using slick campaigns and introducing expensive commercials with Hollywood production values.

No fewer than 10 companies, including Budweiser, UPS and Allstate, are airing new commercials tied to the race on Fox, and several are leveraging their Web sites to attract even more fans to their products.

“Because our season starts with our biggest event, advertisers typically ramp up campaigns and kick them off for Daytona, then have them roll throughout the year,” said Andrew Giangola, NASCAR’s director of business communications.

A 30-second spot during the Daytona 500 will cost advertisers as much as $500,000 this year. That’s up from $450,000 last year and $275,000 in 2002.

While the cost pales in comparison to the Super Bowl, it’s still one of the most expensive single-day events to sponsor. Companies said it’s worth the money because the unique structure of the NASCAR season, with the sports main event taking place at the beginning of the year, allows them to introduce their NASCAR-themed advertising at a time when the most fans are tuned in.

Last year’s Daytona 500 lured 37 million viewers, making it the most-watched race in history. Revenue from television advertising has nearly doubled in the past five years, from $22 million in 2001 to $42.3 million last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

“This race is big for us,” said Steve Holmes, a spokesman for UPS, which Thursday announced a new five-year sponsorship deal with NASCAR. “It makes for a great opportunity to debut new advertising.”

UPS, which had no advertising presence for the Super Bowl, is going all-out with its Daytona 500 campaign. The shipping company will debut five commercials tomorrow featuring Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 44 UPS car, racing in the trademark UPS delivery truck.

Budweiser, which presented commercials during the Super Bowl, will introduce five new commercials for Daytona including a 60-second spot involving Earnhardt, driver of the No. 8 Budweiser car, racing across the desert and fending off an army of mutants in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Sunoco is planning two new commercials, including a spot featuring Stewart racing his shopping cart through a supermarket. And Oreo, the “official cookie” of NASCAR, has two ads featuring driver Greg Biffle in a cookie-eating competition with a senior citizen.

Insurance company Allstate will reprise its popular “Girls’ Day Out” campaign involving driver Kasey Kahne and a trio of women who chase him. The campaign last year was popular among NASCAR fans and gained circulation on Internet bulletin boards and fan sites, earning Allstate the title of NASCAR Marketer of the Year.

“We just found a wonderful, humorous formula,” said Pam Hollander, Allstate’s director of sponsorship marketing. “The talk value has been tremendous for us. It’s like its own walking billboard.”

The Internet has proven useful for other marketers, including Budweiser, which reported 26 million views of its Super Bowl ads online.

“That’s like adding another quarter to the Super Bowl,” said Randall Blackford, Budweiser’s director of marketing. “So we’re going to learn from that and apply it to the Daytona 500. It’s a pretty exciting way to reach more consumers.”

Unlike the Super Bowl commercials, which rarely include the athletes involved in the game, most of the commercials airing during the Daytona 500 include drivers participating in the race. NASCAR officials said that reflects the drivers’ perceived likability.

“Clearly, our athletes have a different role,” Mr. Giangola said. “The brand is so closely connected to the driver. In NASCAR, the sponsor’s connection to the driver is unbreakable.”

The value of static advertising is also expected to increase, as Fox now has 90 cameras all over the track. DirecTV, meanwhile, will offer its NASCAR HotPass service for free tomorrow, giving fans inside views of several cars and drivers.

It appears that enthusiasm for NASCAR among advertisers hasn’t dampened, despite lower ratings for the majority of races last season after years of explosive growth. Sponsors dismissed the notion that NASCAR’s growth has stalled, and pointed to changes to the Nextel Cup points system, plus the introduction of Toyota cars and new drivers. The emergence of ABC and ESPN as broadcast partners later this year could also help, they said.

“We hope that NASCAR matches its past penetration and growth,” Ms. Hollander said. “We, too, have been disappointed in the ratings, but we’re hopeful that ESPN and ABC inject some new life into it.”

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