McLaren and Lotus pull away from F1 elitism to drive revenues

McLaren and Lotus Formula One racing teams are inventing rights, assets and content marketing opportunities to fuel their commercial strategies by promising fans greater access to a sport steeped in exclusivity.

McLaren is working with Kitbag to drive more conversions from its retail channels.

Rights owners are cutting away the velvet rope around top tier racing in a bid to offer more complex sponsorship packages capable of opening new revenue streams. Whereas branding on the car drove the majority of commercial deals around the sport, companies are now demanding subtler engagement strategies to offset falling television numbers across Europe.

McLaren’s response to the shifting dynamic sees it tying its retail and communications channels closer together in the hope of driving sales. The carmaker has brought in Kitbag to shape the strategy across its online store and outlets at races in a five year deal that also covers marketing initiatives with sponsors such as Hugo Boss. Activity could range from a simple link to the ecommerce site embedded in a Mclaren video featuring sponsors to a timely post during a race to encourage impulse sales, according to Kitbag,

Mclaren hopes Kitbag’s experience in developing similar integrated customer journeys for the likes of Manchester United and Wimbledon delivers economies of scale around distribution and access to expertise. The company had previously managed its retail strategy in-house but it is no longer a feasible tactic if it is to keep pace with the commercial moves from its rivals.

Lotus F1 Team s pursuing an alternative strategy by opting to solely focus on how it creates bespoke opportunities for its partners to be relevant in the sport.

The team, which claims its marketing budget “exists for the fulfilment of our sponsors campaigns”, is working with brands such as Microsoft and Unilever Rexona on campaigns pushed primarily through social media and experiential events. Much of the attention at the moment is concentrated on how sponsors, particularly EMC, can enhance races in real-time with everything from user-generated content to telemetry data.

Christian Vine, chief marketing officer at Lotus F1 Team, says the strategy aims to give its sponsors a greater share of the spotlight compared to other teams. The team was one of the first to grow its roster of consumer facing brands in 2012 and believes the “inclusive and warm” nature it has built online has created a strong point of differentiation to the more elitist stances adopted by its rivals.

Vine adds: “We’re moving from a period where we offered sponsors ready-made tool kits that were limited in flexibility into a phase of designing completely unique assets that no others have in the sport. It gives brands the opportunity to do something that has never been done before with our cars and the drivers and I think that’s the nature the [sponsorship] market is moving in general.”

The efforts to make racing less elitist are what tempted Smirnoff into the sport when it partnered with the Sahara Force India team last month. A comedy series (see below), hosted by British actress Thalia Zucchi and US actor Brad Wollack, gives fans unprecedented access to the team in the run up to races with the aim of disrupting the seriousness of the sport.

Matt Bruhn, global brand director for Smirnoff, says the Iris Worldwide-created campaign ties to its “exclusivity for everybody” marketing strategy, touting its quality versus price.

“Not everyone who likes racing has the highlife that is typically associated with Formula 1”, adds Bruhn.  “Actually, most people sit in the grand stands as that’s where the fun happens – we want to hang out with these people.”