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AUTO RACING: JUST SAY `NO': MOTORSPORTS, AUTO MARKETERS NEED BACKBONE TO LEAVE TOBACCO SPONSORS BEHIND

By Published on .

What's it going to take for the moguls of motorsports to realize that they're long overdue to kick the bad habit of tobacco sponsorships?

No matter the type of racing, flying billboards are always racing across our TV screens and tracks all over the country, promoting their brands to everyone who enjoys watching racing.

WINSTON CUP SPONSOR

In cases such as Nascar's Winston Cup Series, the tobacco companies are even sponsoring the events themselves.

Tobacco companies and state and federal governments are working on a settlement. A key provision would eliminate tobacco sponsorship of any motorsports activity. The tobacco companies have agreed to that provision, yet they're also saying that if the agreement isn't signed, they expect to be back in motorsports as big as ever next year.

Isn't it about time for the automobile companies to understand that tobacco marketing isn't in their own best interest? They should exert all the pressure they can on the racers who use their products.

Nearly all companies that sell vehicles in the U.S. and participate in motor racing are involved with tobacco. It would be fairly easy (although painful) for the automobile companies simply to insist that anyone who races an XYZ car cannot accept sponsorship money from any tobacco company, whether it's for smoking, chewing or snuffing. You just can't do it.

ALTERNATE SPONSORS

Given the strong growth of motor racing today, there are plenty of possibilities for sponsorships besides tobacco. Racers, teams, associations and car companies must understand that shilling for tobacco is simply wrong. What a tragedy if motorsports were to go kicking and screaming down to the wire just to collect the last gold coin.

TIME FOR BACKBONE

It's about time for the motor industry to grow a backbone. Tobacco promotion isn't in the industry's self-interest, and it's certainly not in the far more important interest of children and young adults who enjoy the sport and are thus exposed to a pleasant association with tobacco. Tobacco companies understand the value of their association with racing. That's why they spend so many millions on it.

Sooner or later, tobacco promotions will be banned from motor racing. What a shame if the auto industry doesn't take this small opportunity and just say no.

There is no question that laws should prohibit the promotion of tobacco to kids through racing. The question is whether the auto industry will have the backbone to say no.

Mr. Crain is publisher and editorial director of Automotive News and chairman of Crain Communications Inc., which also publishes Advertising Age.

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