Motorsports Marketing must change to remain relevant

Brian Mackey

Mackey Marketing Group is taking a vastly different approach to motorsport marketing. The firm located in suburban Atlanta, Georgia has long been known as a veteran, reputable boutique firm that has specialized in motorsport marketing and promotion since its founding in 1986.

For years, the agency and the industry as a whole have relied on the tried and true overall marketing strategy provided by brand exposure, internal and "inside" sales relationships and nationally televised product publicity all intertwined within a highly commercialized and sponsor friendly arena. The overall effect resulted in a commercial powerhouse that literally created an industry and built motorsports into a global enterprise. But in recent years, the commercial “edge" that has long been a trademark of the sport's effectiveness has seemed to dull and become what others might phrase as "dated."

From Mackey Marketing's perspective, motorsport marketing is a 20th century success story competing in a 21st century world. For all its dominance what worked over the past half century has not fully emerged into the more modern marketing landscape. Change, perhaps even radical change, has become a pivotal element in the agency's reconfigured look at the strengths and benefits of motorsport marketing.

The clues are abundant. Motor racing attendance is down. Television ratings are in general decline. While not solely the sphere or responsibility of marketing, more and more “fans" seem to be disappearing to a level where the core relevance of the sport in today's competitive market place is consistently challenged. It's a dying sport and dying a little bit more each and every day.

So the rationale says. In response, many industry insiders continue to rely on the traditional strategies that proved successful in the past, perhaps even to suggest more of it, as the most sensible approach to meet current day challenges. But such thinking nearly guarantees the same limited positive outcome while the sport as a whole prolongs its long spiral toward insignificance.

In contrast, Mackey Marketing prefers to believe the brightest days may still be in the future, but to date, perhaps only dimly so. By challenging accepted strategies the agency sees an alternative path that opens up opportunities not yet explored and benefits not yet realized. To get there means fundamentally changing the way we see motorsports as a commercial medium.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Gone are the days of creating “exposure," the principal building block that built the industry. Additionally, critically, re-evaluated thinking suggests a wholesale acceptance of new methods of generating benefits from participation as a motorsport sponsor. Paraphrasing the 20th century benefits as a focus on branding and top of mind awareness, the bottom line benefits can typically be defined as a “passive" engagement with race fans. In this more modern approach, the revised marketing thrust envisions far greater emphasis on “active" engagement with audiences in ways that creates more than a passing, momentary connection between fan and sponsor. While that may be the key transformation, admittedly, it's the most challenging aspect to create. In some ways, it simply has not been done this way before.

To illustrate, Mackey Marketing is developing a sponsorship package for a mid-level professional boat racing series called “Crackerbox PRO." In traditional terms, the series offers limited opportunities for “brand exposure" and television coverage. Without these pillars of 20th century benefits, there seems virtually no viable way to create sufficient value to entice sizable sponsor participation. And ultimately, that may still be true.

But Crackerbox PRO provides a unique opportunity to “test market" a new menu of sponsor benefits and market capabilities in the real world. Starting anew means fresh challenges to accepted principles and ample opportunity to respond to market hesitancy to “pioneer" new ways to create sponsor value. With essentially nothing to lose, Mackey Marketing and Crackerbox PRO elected to change the process by offering alternative choices to consider.


From the outset, in strictly marketing terms, Mackey Marketing realized that creating brand exposure was a by-product of something more fundamental. Basically, watching a race car go by (or boat) should no longer be viewed as generating a commercial exposure, but rather it should communicate a commercial message. That simple realization changes the very fabric of what the sport is trying to achieve commercially. There should be a “reason" why the race car is out there, and the message it generates must resonate in some way with the people who see it.

Crackerbox PRO is a vintage race boat series utilizing race boats that are essentially competing with the same design as nearly fifty years ago. With modern updates to safety and horsepower, Crackerbox PRO has a connection to the 1950s and 60s that is palatable, obvious and desirable. That aspect led Mackey Marketing to devise a “nostalgic" theme to the series sponsor offer to permeate throughout the race fans' experience within the Crackerbox PRO arena. Nostalgia is a strong marketing draw for many advertisers and marketers. Taking advantage of that positive consumer response seemed to be a logical avenue to pursue to differentiate the Crackerbox PRO series from the myriad of other alternative applications.

But sensing that there was still a “missing" ingredient, Mackey Marketing reached out to a charitable organization that would provide further meaning to the theme that was being formulated. The resulting affiliation links the promotion directly in context with the charitable organization, the nostalgic theme and the purpose behind it. Importantly, the varying elements all tie together in one compelling combination that is intended to catch the attention of viable commercial sponsors. While there is little direct focus on brand exposure, there is a sizable concentration on the corresponding messaging.

Mackey Marketing reached out to the Dementia Society of America®. Understanding that nostalgia is tied to memories and the parallel importance related to the dementia prevention provided a powerful way to personalize the theme in ways every race fan and audience member could appreciate and identify. It reinforces from a marketing viewpoint why the race boats are out there by providing context directly linked to the messaging; vintage race boats – nostalgia – memories – cognitive health. The Dementia Society of America enthusiastically agreed to be part of the campaign. Immediate objectives of the charity include focusing on cognitive fitness by showcasing vintage music, period oriented activities and ideas that can be straightforwardly communicated in a positive manner within the Crackerbox campaign theme.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]With fund-raising elements and further education channels available to the charity to distribute topics of substance and relevance, the race series platform takes on a characteristic traditionally unrealized in motorsports. It has purpose. The Crackerbox PRO series clearly communicates an important, cohesive and undiluted message rather than generating random and scattered exposure via branding. The series sales pitch to prospective sponsors is to offer a promotion platform of real meaning, real integration, real context and a real sense of what it is and why it is. It's not a repeat of 20th century exposure, but rather an arena that can deliver tangible, personal engagement resonating far beyond the confines of a race event itself.

This is our “test" case. There needs to be inquisitive marketers and a motor racing infrastructure ready to embrace this kind of alternative thinking. Change clearly defines the strategy. And the strategy is to move beyond the traditional and find the next level of personal engagement. It is a search for themed promotional expression that takes advantage of the sport's historic strengths and begins to transform it in ways that suits more modern motorsport marketing capabilities. That's our objective. That's the way Mackey Marketing sees the sport moving forward into a world of renewed competitiveness. Motor racing has always had a profound effect on those who typically come to the races. Now and tomorrow they'll come to events vigorously engaged at levels never before achieved, with technology never before available and with an impact never before realized.

All it takes is change.

Brian C. Mackey is president of Mackey Marketing Group, Inc.
He can be contacted at

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