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Chase campaign focuses on fan passion for drivers

August 23, 2014, Zack Albert,

Network for the playoffs plays up intensity, importance of winning

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NASCAR will break new ground this season with a revamped format for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, which loom just weeks away. It's only natural that the marketing initiative that promotes it blazes a new trail as well.
The blueprint for what NASCAR termed the "biggest, most engaging marketing campaign in the history of the sport" was unveiled Saturday morning, detailing the push across television and social media platforms and the connection that the new postseason system promises to forge with its millions of fans. The initiative aims to portray the loyal backers of each of the 16 championship-eligible drivers as nations, ready to rise up for battle come playoff time -- drawing parallels to the frenzied patriotism shown in this summer's World Cup.


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"We see this new format as a great opportunity for us to showcase the rivalries that exist between these guys and this notion of having a following -- or in soccer, they would call them supporters -- is a rallying point," said Steve Phelps, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. "For us, it's truly a 'battle of nations' concept, and it works for us because there are legions of fans that are behind these drivers."

The ads, a collaboration with broadcast partner ESPN through the Ogilvy & Mather agency in New York, serve to instill the proper sense of drama but also to educate viewers about the nuances of the new Chase format. The changes that NASCAR officials adopted in the offseason have placed a stronger emphasis on victories, both in the regular season and postseason.

Just three races remain before the Chase begins Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway, and Saturday's rollout of the "Hype" commercial aims to set the crunch-time tone.

"We made a bold decision at the beginning of the season to make our Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup all about winning," said Brent Dewar, NASCAR Chief Operating Officer. "Now that we're just weeks away from the start of the Chase, NASCAR, working closely with ESPN, is going to market with a creative platform that is just as innovative and reflective of how important this moment is for our sport."

The survive-and-advance tournament concept has already seen some portion of the spotlight ahead of the campaign's launch in earnest. A two-minute online video that debuted Aug. 18 offered a pre-Chase tutorial about the new format, as told through the interactions of fans with Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson.

"We are trying to educate both the avid fan as well as the casual fan on what this whole thing means," Phelps said. "The great thing about it, it's not just educational but the way that the drivers -- Jimmie, Kyle, Kurt and Carl -- the way that they bring it across and show their personalities, they made it fun."

Phelps explained that the campaign has room to grow before a champion in crowned in November. As pivotal moments play out over the course of the 10-race Chase, he expects the storylines to be woven into the 30-second spots.

NASCAR's decision to work in lockstep with ESPN through a single agency gives the campaign the ability to evolve and helped achieve a consistent look and feel.

"Early in the process, they committed to working together, so it was a situation where one and one equals three -- they have their media weight and all our media weight, which is really fantastic," Phelps said. "Having your media partner collaborate with you on creatives is such a great idea for us, and it really helps from a fan perspective. Fans will love the work, and it really helps to tell a great story."

NASCAR has already seen dividends from the new format with checkered flags and postseason berths going to established drivers and first-time winners alike. Once the Chase field is set Sept. 6 at Richmond International Raceway, Phelps said he expects the passion of 16 fan bases -- for their favorite drivers, teams and manufacturers -- to act as flag-bearers for their driver nation.

"We're excited about the possibilities as we head into these final few races and then obviously starting our 10-week Chase," Phelps said. "The tagline is fantastic: 16 Nations, 10 Battles, 1 will prevail. Very pleased with how the work came out, and the fans will really, really like it."


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