Coca-Cola has long been one of the most invested and recognized brands in auto racing, thanks in large part to its association with NASCAR that has dated back more than 50 years.
But as the two partners began to look at their relationship ahead of the 2018 expiration of its official sponsorship, there was a feeling that more could be done.
“When you have a multi-decade partnership, there are some points where you may feel like you’re going through the motions,” said Lou Garate, senior vice president of partnership marketing at NASCAR.
Sure, the brand was known as the official soft drink of NASCAR, had race entitlements such as the Coca-Cola 600 thanks to its relationship with ISC and partnerships with many of the top drivers, all providing it with great visibility in the sport.
But as the company approached the negotiation, Paul Hourigan, Coca-Cola director of sports marketing, said it took a step back and reflected on what had worked well but also what was important to the brand as well as NASCAR.
“When we sat down collectively at the table, we all recognized that our long-standing shared commitment to patriotism and the military,” Hourigan said. “We wanted to really around that aspect in our renewal, and that became our priority marketing platform in the deal – we felt there was an opportunity to unite around common themes and actions.”
The two sides agreed to a six-year extension in January 2018, which will now run through at least 2023. It marks one of the longest contracts that the two have agreed to during the relationship.
Given that Coca-Cola has held entitlements for two races that fall on Memorial Day weekend and Independence Day weekend, efforts on those fronts have long been a large part of its NASCAR activation, For example, for the last 10 years Coca-Cola has had a season-long effort called Troops to the Track which provides servicemen and women with behind-the-scenes experiences. It’s also NASCAR’s partner on its NASCAR Salutes platform, which is the racing body’s industry-wide salute to the U.S. Armed Forces.
The new deal has broadened those efforts beyond that six-week or so window between the two races, making it a more clear year-round platform that has driven business results for both parties.
“This larger common platform that we can build our partnership around is something that we never had in the past, and have driven a lot of the success thus far,” said Garate. “The better aligned we both are, the more success the brand will have in amplifying their message while also creating a stronger business extension.”
Garate said that a shared mindset has led to a continued increase in activations from Coca-Cola against the NASCAR relationship, ranging from working more closely with retailers like Publix and Circle K, as well as smaller regional programs in key markets.
One of the most successful extensions of that recently has been with Mexican driver Daniel Suarez, who is sponsored by Coca-Cola.
The company has been one of the biggest partners around the fan-group Daniel’s Amigos, which has engaged both long-time NASCAR fans and newcomers to the sport – especially Hispanic and Hispanic-American fans.
More than 500 members of the fan group met for the first time at the Auto Club 400 race in March in Fontana, California. At Las Vegas Motor Speedway ahead of the 2019 playoffs, the group will meet again not only for the race, but for an influencer and community leader event on September 13, and a race day experience including a meet and greet with Suarez – all of which is being supported by Coca-Cola.
So far, Coca-Cola and NASCAR’s deeper push around supporting the military has been well received by fans – of which both active and former military members make up a large chunk of. According to data compiled by the Simmons National Consumer Survey in 2018, NASCAR fans are twice as likely as non-fans to serve or have served in the armed forces.
Three out of five avid NASCAR fans think more positively of Coca-Cola because of its association with NASCAR Salutes, and three out of four avid NASCAR fans agree that Coca-Cola shows military appreciation better than other large companies, according to data compiled by NASCAR in its weekly fan council survey that taps the opinions of more than 20,000 fans from across the U.S. The survey also showed that more than three out of four avid NASCAR fans – 78%- have heard of the NASCAR Salutes program, the highest since measurement began and more than doubling in the last five years.
“We see a lot of opportunities to use the scale of this relationship between the league, the drivers and the track to push everything collectively to a higher level,” Hourigan said. “We know we’re going to be recognized together in a far more powerful way than each of us doing things individually, and that’s what is required to take this sport to the next level – I think we’re on that trajectory.”