Volume X, Issue 5, Page 104

Hoping for Some Real Promotion From Coca-Cola Co. This Time Around

When the news release popped-up on the computer screen, I’m sure my eyes must have been as wide as a Goodyear slick.

Probably rolled like one, too.

“IndyCar Series Announces Major Multi-Year Agreement with Coca-Cola.”

The missive went on to say Coke North America “will develop retail marketing programs to help enhance the IndyCar experience for fans throughout the season.”

Develop retail marketing programs . . . sound familiar?

It sure did to me.

Some of us have heard this before. Specifically, in the afterglow of NHRA’s announcement that Coke’s POWERade sports drink would assume the series’ title sponsorship from R.J Reynolds’ Winston brand (after a 27-year run) in 2002. 

I remember a meeting of drag racing business types in Indianapolis before the ’02 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. The presentation on how Coke’s ace sports marketers were going to promote NHRA race-market-by-race-market, via retail outlets, had the representatives of team sponsors so bubbly one might have thought Perrier-Jouet had been served in elegant crystal flutes.

Now, six years later, here we go again!

Full Throttle, Coke’s energy drink, will take over from POWERade next season. And Brad Goist, vice president and general manager for Water and Energy at Coca-Cola North America, assures us NHRA “will be the cornerstone for all of our marketing events.”

Call me a hopeful skeptic. Oh, by the way, I’m still waiting for the courtesy of a reply to my several voice/E mails to Ben Reiling, Coke’s motorsports marketer – sent in 2004!

To be honest, I had an uncertain feeling about the POWERade-NHRA relationship from early days on. I recall separate conversations with Joe Amato and Don Prudhomme, after they had talked with NHRA President Tom Compton, following the series sponsorship announcement. What they got out of it, both said in so many words, was that NHRA was “lucky” just to get a replacement for Winston.

To me, that sounded like a negotiation done on the defensive, not conducted from a position of strength. A historical review of what’s happened since confirms that impression, although, in fairness, let’s acknowledge the total POWERade points fund and top 10 bonus program this season for all four pro categories combined is $3.3 million. Not enough to meet the racers’ needs, but still a record.    

POWERade has pitched itself to existing fans via racing content commercials that run only on ESPN2’s event telecasts, plus a variety of at-track “experiences.” The two key words in that last sentence are existing fans. It appears to me any significant, meaningful outreach to bring in NEW fans ended with 2003’s “limited time” NHRA-themed POWERade packaging and “high-horsepower flavor.”

The last time I saw those bottles was in a “clearance items/marked down” basket at my neighborhood supermarket here in Scottsdale, AZ – about three months after they first went on sale.  I observed zero NHRA-related product displays in Fry’s or Albertson’s or Safeway in the country’s fifth-largest metro area during the run-up to last February’s Checker Schuck’s Kragen Nationals at Firebird Raceway. Yes, I made it a point to check.

In contrast: Images of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears, Robby Gordon and Jamie McMurray were featured in local stores and/or their weekly newspaper circulars leading up to last month’s Subway 500k at Phoenix International Raceway. The products ranged from soda to apples, ice cream to whisky, cereal to lunchmeat.

Asked, specifically, about activation, Goist promised it would be, well, Full Thottle.

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