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Marketing to the Online NASCAR Enthusiast

Posted on 4.30.2008

By Carol Setter

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Stretching from February through October is the NASCAR season. The sport attracts fans from all walks of lives and has emerged as a powerful community, capturing the intense interest of Republicans and Democrats, men and women and marketers of all stripes, vying to harness this active and savvy group.

But who is the NASCAR fan? Are male fans different than female fans in their online consumer behavior? Can their Web surfing habits be used to support or enhance your brand? With approximately 75 million NASCAR fans, and about 40-45 percent estimated to be women (Sports Illustrated/ESPN), they are a large group with core behaviors that provide insight in how to market to them.

At first glance it may seem that car-racing fans are no different than the general population in their online habits — how they access the Internet, the number of times they go online weekly, and their use of broadband or dial-up.

But dig deeper and distinct differences begin to emerge. It probably comes as no surprise that they research car purchases online, but there are a number of other behaviors that are of interest to marketers. For example, they are more likely to:

  • Read sports news online
  • Keep in touch through instant messaging and chat rooms
  • Research family genealogy
  • Play games online across all categories (fantasy sports, arcade, board, casino gambling, puzzles/trivia, multi-player console, sports/simulations)
  • Exhibit an ease at various types of online buying, from gift registries to online wallets
  • Actively listen online to streaming music, politics/public affairs, sports, business news, and live concerts

With this background in car racing, let’s look specifically at NASCAR fans. They comprise about 17 percent of a representative online population – that’s about 32 million fans with a balance online between the under-35 crowd and those 36-54.

Online NASCAR enthusiasts are represented equally in all geographical areas and at diverse income levels, though there are more earning less than $37,000 per year, and fewer earning $100,000+.

This is also a group that likes to share their experiences. There are more than 326,000 NASCAR hits on MySpace, including individual videos of racing, discussions of favorite drivers, and personal accounts about memories of attending NASCAR races. It’s apparent in reading the posts that NASCAR is a family event, and many individuals follow NASCAR with great emotion and affection. A passion for NASCAR is evident and experiences are portrayed with great enthusiasm and energy.

What does this information tell us about attracting this group?

  • Focus on their relationships with family and friends – they like to be connected
  • Leverage their interest in reading and listening to sports and events – they clearly want to be “in the know”
  • Integrate their enthusiasm for gaming into your campaigns – it’s a pastime they engage across many types of single and multi-player games and having fun is important to them

In what ways are these strategies illustrated online?

In focusing on their relationships with family and friends, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (in their site has a unique way of targeting NASCAR enthusiasts and working with them to support their favorite driver while giving to a charity by forming “pit crews” (full disclosure, St. Jude is a WhittmanHart client).

Consider brands who are courting the NASCAR woman enthusiast, including such diverse brands as Tide and Harlequin books. They know the female audience is there, that she is involved in NASCAR as a family event, and will respond enthusiastically to the opportunity to have her own sources of NASCAR information tailored to her other interests. Thus, these brands find ways to connect with her.

Tide, for example, has a special site with racing updates, information on the Team Tide charity, wallpapers, and NASCAR buddy icons for instant messaging. All are aimed to help her incorporate NASCAR into her life.

Harlequin Romance Novels, realizing that racing and romance was a natural bond, started with 3 books in 2006. This jumped dramatically to 16 books in 2007, and there are already 8 books online for purchase in the first half of this year.

Harlequin is also extending the relationship beyond books and into online sweepstakes. In partnership with Office Depot, a man or woman can enter a sweepstakes to put a proposal or a renewal of vows on the back of the Office Depot Ford Fusion during the 2008 NASCAR Sprint All-Star race ( This opportunity lets men and women engage in a romantic way to build emotional ties with NASCAR.

Already, Best Western has launched their NASCAR April 1st contest, aimed at having families, friends, neighbors and co-workers upload humorous pictures. As with Harlequin, the winner will be featured on a car, this time at the NASCAR race in Phoenix in April (

These illustrations show that forward-thinking marketers are beginning to understand that the NASCAR audience is active online and can be acquired and engaged by integrating NASCAR with their interest in family and friends and having fun.

Additionally, attracting women who are NASCAR enthusiasts is in its infancy and has a large upside, as Harlequin has found. Targeting women has the potential to be a lucrative pathway for marketers if they understand how to integrate into her daily life, provide her with engaging opportunities to share with family and friends, and bring racing top-of-mind through campaigns and sweepstakes.

While there are numerous ways of attracting NASCAR fans offline, the online venue provides a fertile opportunity for marketers to focus on fans’ specific online attitudes and behaviors and intertwine those with their passion for racing.

By reaching out to NASCAR moms, companies like P&G and Harlequin have transformed their marketing messages into a kind of social currency within the family, pulling family members together around their brands.

About the Author: Carol Setter is National Director of Strategy at WhittmanHart Interactive, a full-service interactive advertising agency. Carol leads the company in Strategy, Analytics, Brand Experience, and eLearning.


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