Garfield's AdReview

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The Nascar audience is Jodie Foster.

Everybody in the marketing business is John Hinckley. They will do anything to impress her.

That's because, according to the latest data, stock-car racing is America's fastest-growing sport, with 1.7 trillion fans with an average household income of $300 million. Half of the fan base has a Ph.D. in molecular biology. The other half hates Jeff Gordon.

We might have the demos slightly off, but they do always seem kind of inflated-not because we're Eastern media elites who imagine all Nascar fans to be toothless rednecks who are their own first cousins and are way behind on the child support to Darleen. No, we get that Nascar has an ever-widening appeal. What confuses us-or, really, just saddens us-is how that converts to a marketing opportunity.

If, hypothetically, we knew who was leading the Nextel Cup standings, and we also were confronted with, say, the official toothbrush of Nascar (Oral B) that would not likely influence our toothbrush-purchasing decisions.

Is the average Nascar fan, affluent or not, really that subject to suggestion?

Well, at least one industry thinks so. The No. 1 and No. 2 two package-delivery services are throwing themselves at stock-car racing like a plug bait at a school of large-mouth. Two campaigns, one from FedEx and one from UPS (the official delivery company of Nascar), aim to cement the connection between racing and shipping.

Wait ... did we say "cement?" We meant "invent."

The better produced of the two is from BBDO, New York, for FedEx, which is trying to neutralize the competition's official sponsorship by entering a car on the circuit. In the best of three clever commercials announcing the news, we watch a guy on his way to work, walking very close behind various pedestrians on his route-until, inside his office building, an annoyed coworker turns around and says, "Jerry, stop drafting me."

See, that's what racecars do to conserve fuel. It's a good gag.

The new UPS spot, from Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., isn't as simple or funny, but it is part of a superior campaign to merge one bizarre emotional bond, Nascar fandom, with another: our inexplicable affection for those big, brown trucks. When last we left the story, a year ago, star driver Dale Jarrett had signed on to race for the UPS team, only to discover they wanted him to drive the truck. He declined.

In the new spot, he surprises the UPS execs at a meeting.

"Hi, guys," he says, "I kinda changed my mind. I think I will race the truck."

Within seconds, word spreads by phone, fax, computer, satellite, even pneumatic tube. Then Dale adds, "One more thing. Let's keep this quiet."

OK, that's a lame payoff, apropos of nothing. No matter. The point is the evolving story, leading up to what no doubt will be an amusing spectacle of Jarrett piloting a boxy Freightliner with a top speed roughly 125 mph lower than he's accustomed to. It's the sort of stunt that could capture anybody's attention, even someone clueless about last weekend's results at Daytona.

The winner, in a three-lap overtime: the DuPont Co.

Review 3 stars

Ad: UPS

Agency: Martin Agency

Location: Richmond, Va.

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