Branding CART and their race cars

 by Mark Cipolloni
November 9, 2000


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In our opinion, and most race fans we talk to, CART as a name for a racing series leaves a lot to be desired. There is a lot of confusion among the general population between 'CART' and your average grocery 'shopping cart' or go-'kart'.  Before the split with the IRL, CART had the right to use the name 'IndyCar', a term people on the street could quickly identify with them. The reaction you were likely to get then was 'oh yeah, those are the cars that race at Indy right?' 

Since the split and the loss of the right to use the term 'IndyCar', CART has made an attempt to use the term 'Champ Cars' to identify their racecars.  The terms 'CART' or 'Champ Car' are far from what we would call good 'racing' names. The majority of people on the street have no idea what you are talking about when you say those terms and that is hurting CART.  Everyone knows what an 'Indy Car' is........It's a car that races at Indy.  Everyone knows what a stock car is..........It's a car that looks a lot like a stock street car (although you and I know it' far from stock) and races in NASCAR at places like Daytona.  

The idea is that people can easily relate to 'Indy' and 'Stock' cars by the very nature of their name. What on earth is a 'Champ Car'? To a casual or potential new fan, the word 'Champ' has no relation to racing. It just doesn't click. Mention 'Champ Car' to someone who doesn't follow CART and see what reaction you get. "Huh? What's that you say?", will likely be the answer. CART and Champ Car just don't have that name recognition.  The public just doesn't connect with them. They don't 'click' as they say.

The next CART CEO is going to have to focus on branding CART and branding what they call their race cars. There are several ways to approach the problem, and here is what we suggest.

1. NASCAR spent a lot of money to educate race fans when they changed the name of their top series from NASCAR 'Grand National' cars to NASCAR 'Winston Cup' cars because the word Winston Cup has no real relation to racing either.   They entered into a long-term agreement with RJ Reynolds (RJR) to rename their cars 'Winston Cup' cars to correspond to their sponsor Winston cigarettes. RJR paid a lot of money for that. Both RJR and NASCAR made a concerted effort to brand NASCAR's top series as Winston Cup cars.  To have the word 'Winston' uttered out of every fans mouth whenever they talk about NASCAR has got to go down as one of the most brilliant marketing strategies of all-time. That strategy would be equivalent to CART calling their cars CART 'FedEx' cars corresponding to their title sponsor FedEx.  We suggest the 'Champ Car' designation be faded into the background just as the term 'stock car' has taken a back seat to Winston Cup cars.  The term Champ Cars just doesn't work.  Nice try CART.  CART would then brand their cars 'FedEx' cars and every piece of literature and every mention of the cars that race in CART would be CART 'FedEx Cars'.

In turn, FedEx would put a picture of a FedEx car on every single truck and plane they own......moving billboards seen by millions of people everyday.  TV advertising by FedEx and CART would feature 'FedEx Cars'.   Through a cohesive marketing strategy, the term 'FedEx Car' would be marketed by both FedEx and by CART into a name known around the world, just like 'Winston Cup' cars are recognized around the world. We know that in the past when CART asked FedEx to place an image of their cars, or their logo, on their trucks they said no because they sponsor a lot of different sporting events and they could not favor one over the other.  However, we wonder if CART ever offered to rename their cars after the FedEx company.  That would, we feel, bring a lot of added value to FedEx and possible get them to agree to such a deal.  In a true CART and FedEx partnership, the deal to brand the term 'FedEx Cars', would mean all the FedEx trucks and planes would look something like this:

Branding of the term 'FedEx Cars' would include an image 
of a 'FedEx Car' on every FedEx truck and plane.  Click to enlarge.

NASCAR's agreement with RJR for the 'Winston' sponsorship was a very long term deal.  When a sponsor signs on for that long of a term, they are more willing to invest into the sport to help it grow. That's why Winston bends over backwards to grow NASCAR while FedEx, which has a short-term deal with CART, delivers just what is agreed to in their contract, nothing more and nothing less.  A long term contract (say 25 or 50 years) is essential for CART because once the world knows their cars as CART 'FedEx Cars', CART would not want to confuse the public by changing it more than once every 25 or 50 years.........or longer.  This deal would be a win-win solution for both CART and for FedEx and hopefully, cement their long-term relationship.

2. The movie DRIVEN will be released this coming spring. CART must implement a strategic marketing plan based around that movie. It is CART's best opportunity to finally get the terms CART and FedEx Car branded (although unfortunately a lot of the filming already done may contain the phrase Champ Cars...perhaps it can be dubbed out and replaced with FedEx Cars). Not only should CART market to race fans, it must market to the millions of moviegoers who will go to watch the movies. Most movie theaters now show advertisements and movie trivia before the feature movie starts. If there ever was a time for CART to dig into its war chest to promote its product, now is the time. CART must buy advertisements in every movie theater across the country (and the world) tying CART to the movie DRIVEN so people can identify CART and FedEx Cars with the cars they see in the movie.   Remember, the goal here is get make the term CART and FedEx Cars as recognizable to the average person on the street as Indy Cars and Winston Cup Cars.

3. So moviegoers can learn about CART's heritage, some of the movie trivia that is shown before the DRIVEN movie should be CART trivia.

4. The movie DRIVEN is a Warner Brothers movie. CART must work with Warner Brothers to come up with merchandise tying CART to the movie. If CART can find a sponsor to help with the cost, every moviegoer should get a free tee-shirt with the DRIVEN logo and CART's logo on it. Then every moviegoer who wears their free shirt becomes a walking billboard for CART.  Working together CART, FedEx and Warner Brothers should be able to come up with an extensive year-long merchandising strategy that would see CART, FedEx Cars, DRIVEN merchandise advertised on TV, in magazines, on the radio and on the internet.

5. As soon as DRIVEN is released start working on the sequel, DRIVEN II that would be released about 3 to 4 years later.  A follow-up movie and marketing effort would give all parties involved repetitive and long-term name recognition so when you ask someone on the street do you know what CART or FedEx Cars are, you get the response 'Oh yeah, that's the really cool racing series with the fastest race cars in the world.  I love it and my favorite driver is ..........! 

The five recommendations above are by no means easy tasks, but they are the type of aggressive marketing approaches CART is going to have to undertake if it ever has any hope of becoming a household name.

As always we say......CART, are you listening?

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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