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NASCAR driver Kyle Busch visits Mars headquarters in Hackettstown

The Star-Ledger, June 04, 2010

By Joseph R. Perone

“It all has to do with marketing, and NASCAR has a world following,” Busch said during a visit yesterday with employees at the Hackettstown candy plant of his prime sponsor, Mars Chocolate North America. “I have fans in South Africa, London and Germany.”

NASCAR was once exclusively a Southern regional sport sponsored mostly by automotive-related companies such as STP, Valvoline and Sunoco. But consumer products firms have paid big bucks to slap their logos on the hoods of race cars in the hope of reaching customers who will remember them when they go shopping.

“We went from cigarette sponsors like Winston to cell phone sponsors like Sprint,” said Andrew Giangola, director of business communications for NASCAR. “In the 1980s, Tide detergent sponsored Darrell Waltrip because they realized a lot of women were watching.”

Because of the Great Recession, racing sponsorships are less expensive than they used to be, according to William Chipps, senior editor of IEG Sponsorship Reports.

“Many teams had to lower their prices,” he said, and sponsors such as Allstate, Brown-Forman (Jack Daniels) and Beam Global (Jim Beam) pulled out altogether last year.

IEG projects companies will spend $3.4 billion this year to sponsor motorsports, up 2.1 percent from last year. Mars is probably spending between $17 million and $23 million to sponsor Busch, according to Chipps.

“Companies realize the marketing power that NASCAR brings to the table,” Chipps said. “A company can sponsor a driver and tap into the affinity that fans have for that driver.”

Brand names such as Sprint, Gillette and UPS once used the racing circuit to get TV exposure for their products. Today, they are seeking activation — “how a company brings a sponsorship to life,” he said.

That could mean creating packaging or point-of-sale displays that play up the racing tie-in, Chipps said.

Mars, for example, uses store displays to promote the racing connection at retailers such as Shop-Rite and A&P, according to Suzanne Beaudoin, Mars’ vice president of sponsorship and sports marketing. The company also uses the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing logo on packaging and for contests and promotions.

“It’s about increasing brand affinity and selling more chocolate,” she said of her company’s 19-year affiliation with motorsports. Mars’ target market is not kids, but mothers shopping for their families.

“There are 75 million NASCAR fans, and 40 percent of them are women,” Beaudoin said.

NASCAR offers a longer time horizon for companies to reach their target market because the season lasts 10 months, rather than six months as with other sports, said Joe Gibbs, who owns Busch’s racing team.

The former coach of the Washington Redskins, who wore his Super Bowl ring at yesterday’s event in Hackettstown, runs Joe Gibbs Racing.

“You can’t race without sponsors,” Gibbs said. “We are a marketing tool that 400 companies use to reach millions of racing fans, who are extremely loyal.”