Virgin Racing uses digital to revitalise Formula 1

The Formula 1 industry is turning to digital media to attempt to reinvigorate the sport’s reputation ahead of the start of the 2010 season.

Formula 1 racing teams, including Mercedes and Virgin, are putting digital media at the centre of their marketing plans for the first time as they look to more effectively engage with fans and strengthen the image of the sport, which is worth £4bn to the British economy alone.

Virgin is to launch a digital and social media-led marketing strategy as it enters its Virgin Racing team for the first time. The brand is launching the full website and social media activity next week ahead of the first race in Bahrain on 13 March.

Virgin Racing wants the site, created by Poke, to be a hub for the brand. It features a magazine section delivering lifestyle feature content, information and race results, and a community which will be integrated into social media websites and feeds.

Virgin said the content would be wide ranging because it wants to attract serious Formula 1 fans as well as more casual viewers.

Fans will be able to create content for the site, such as reporting from events and trackside, and take part in photography competitions.

FIA rule changes, including a cap on budgets, are forcing Formula 1 teams to be more inclusive and innovative in the way they attract audiences. Virgin believes its entry is well timed because its brand heritage of being a consumer champion fits with the sport’s aim of becoming more accessible.

Brett Volker, head of brand at Virgin Racing, said Formula 1 had fallen behind other sports in engaging with fans effectively.

“I wouldn’t be the first person to suggest that Formula 1 hasn’t been keeping up with the times in engaging with fans,” he said. “Historically, the main digital focus for most teams has been their website and many of these have been quite static with various levels of information flow.”

Virgin activated its Facebook and Twitter presence in February in order to encourage participation and tease fans with information before the start of the season with a competition to suggest names for its two cars. The team has also launched a YouTube channel which will feature exclusive content from the team and drivers.

“Already this year we’ve seen many teams engaging more with Twitter in particular, so I’m sure from a team perspective you’ll see an increased focus on digital,” said Volker. “From a broader perspective I certainly hope that the sport starts to follow suit. Resisting giving fans access to what they want in the timeframes and formats they desire can’t be good for anyone.”

Other racing teams said they were also prioritising digital this year. Bastien Hibon, marketing director at Mercedes GP, said its team would be using online more.

“We use the website to let people get under the skin of the team,” he said. “F1 is a very high-brow, high-profile sport and if you do a site the same as TV coverage it’ll be pointless. Your digital presence needs to gather fans and give them more access.”

Tom Hostler, co-founder of Poke, Virgin Racing’s digital agency, said, “It’s clear the frontier in Formula 1 this year will be the social channels of Twitter and Facebook. Too many sports teams use social channels as a link broadcast mechanism and forget their conversational roots.”

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