Indy500's Danica Effect: Brands, Are You Listening?

<a href=Danica Patrick" />

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've been going to the Indianapolis 500 since I was in diapers; my parents first brought me to the event when I was just a year old, and I've been attending every Memorial Day weekend since. As a kid I had little appreciation for the event, but over the years my passion for Indy has become near-obsessive, and I anticipate the race—which takes place this Sunday—as some do the Super Bowl, the Oscars, or even their own wedding (sorry, honey).

For me, motorsports are always interesting, but for the past few years they have been even more so, largely thanks to Danica Patrick. Danica is not the first female racecar driver, but she stole headlines by being the first woman to win an IndyCar race (the Indy Japan 300, in 2008) and a massive number of fans started watching IndyCar racing due to her high-profile presence. (In 2009, the Indianapolis 500 attracted 16 million viewers, despite rainfall, and this year viewership will undoubtedly be even greater.)

Thanks to her, and to other female drivers including Sarah Fisher, Ana Beatriz, and Simona De Silvestro (all of whom will be starting with her at Indy this Sunday), this once male-dominated sport is now incredibly popular with women—and its star is only on the rise. NASCAR reports that 40% of its 75 million fans are women, for whom NASCAR is the second-most-watched television sport after football (according to Fox Sports Network). And here's the most striking statistic of all, at least for advertisers: women NASCAR aficionados are three times as likely to purchase NASCAR-sponsored products as non-fans. Yup ... three times.

So why the attraction? Beth Coode, a 33-year-old junior high school history teacher who lives in Nashville and has been following car racing for 10 years, says, "It's clean and the family can watch it. There's a camaraderie with the [drivers] and their families." Robin Braig, the president of Daytona International Speedway, refers to it as the "Danica-effect." Janet Guthrie—who was, in 1977, the first female to compete in the Indianapolis 500—said regarding racing's popularity, "I thought it would take two generations, and it only seems to have taken one." Lyn St. James, who was one of the sport's pioneers and had 15 IndyCar starts in the 1980s, is now an advocate for training women to be top-notch contenders, and has served as a mentor to many of the up-and-coming drivers, Patrick included.

Danica Patrick

If you ask me, this sudden popularity presents an incredible opportunity for more female- and family friendly sponsors to get involved in motorsports. While Danica's current sponsors—Peak Antifreeze, GoDaddy, and MarquisJet—err on the male side, a brand like Target—an Indy sponsor, as well as QuickTrim—clearly speaks to women. AllState Insurance was one of the first advertisers to speak to NASCAR's female fan-base through a series of popular TV spots, started in 2005, that feature "AllState Girls." One of last year's sponsors was a company called Her Energy (replete with a pink logo), and Cottonelle is on board for yet another year.

So on Sunday, while all eyes will be glued to Danica, Ana, Simona, and Sarah, my eyes will inevitably gravitate to the logos on their racing suits, to see which brands have the forethought to align themselves with these amazing women at this exciting moment in motorsports history. That's one race that might just interest me as much as the Indianapolis 500 race itself.

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Rick Barrack is the Chief Creative Officer/Partner at CBX and one of its founding partners. As lead creative he is responsible for inspiring, directing and motivating the creative teams to develop powerful design solutions. Barrack has close to 20 years of experience in corporate identity and consumer brand identity design. He has led major design initiatives for companies such as IBM, Hewlett Packard, Petro-Canada, ExxonMobil, Johnson & Johnson, and Del Monte Foods. Prior to creating CBX, Barrack was a Senior Design Director at FutureBrand and Design Director at LPK.

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  • Don Chawanano

    Bob, Indycar racing uses alcohol to power the race cars, and most high performance lubricants are synthetic. They a strictly limited in the amount of fuel they can use, many of the safety and efficiency breakthroughs have come from motorsports racing. Of course you can argue that all spectator events are a waste of energy, in that no spectator needs to "be” at the event. But to categorically declare motorsports racing obsolete is a baseless opinion. Today's motorsports pilots are athletes of the highest order; the women who compete particularly at the Indycar level demonstrate that gender equality is not a PC theory. Additionally motorsport racing is a team event, every member contributes, from apprentice wrenches sweeping floors to the Roger Penske's I look forward to Hybrid formula's continuing to push the limits of personal transportation.

  • Chris Reich

    Car racing is obsolete according to one comment. Another sees marketing to women as an "add-on".

    It's going to be another long day. Trying to be a change agent in a world of dull thinking can be very discouraging.

    Chris Reich

  • Bob Jacobson

    All I could think of when reading this effusive endorsement of NASCAR -- I get that women are a unique add-on -- is several thousand gallons of gasoline being burnt for no particular purpose while the Gulf of Mexico becomes a dead zone due to demand generated in part by NASCAR and its fans. (Not just the event, but afterwards, also.)

    Car racing is obsolete. Or are we asked to make exceptions for the sake of corporate brand management?

  • Daryle Hier

    Why is Corporate America lagging to take advantage of an obvious marketing bonanza? Is it perception? Perception is a hard hill to overcome. Or is the ingrained way of doing business in the advertising and marketing, the obstacle? Stepping outside the box is harder said than done. Is it agencies? Their business model is selling advertising to clients; motorsports doesn't fit that mode.

    Whatever the reasons, business needs help devising ways to get the public to pay attention with real emotional relationships and old ways through media don't work. During tough economic times like these, salient strategies of engagement are ever-so-important and motorsports causes the ideal disruption, creates the much wanted and needed word-of-mouth "Community Effect" and gives differentiation in a time when everything is blurred.

    Forward thinking marketers will take advantage of this attention-getting, stimulating, call-to-action marketing tool and know that motorsports is a key to survival in this harsh environment.