Chevrolet was marketing itself through sports even before it officially became a brand.
Imagine the glee of Billy Durant, General Motors' ousted creator. When he co-founded Chevrolet Motor Car Co. with Louis Chevrolet, at no extra cost, Durant, a consummate deal maker, got not only Louis' name but also his celebrated motorsports reputation on a new line of cars. Louis didn't last long with the company, but the cachet did.
Durant never marketed Chevrolet as a sporty car because he didn't have to. The name said it all.
Louis Chevrolet's motorsports fame preceded the 1911 founding of Chevrolet by several years and extended through the 1920s. He won races by the dozens, including several over the great Barney Oldfield. When the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened for auto racing in 1909, he won the second event on the card.
His late entry in the 1911 inaugural Indianapolis 500 was disallowed, but he was there managing brother Arthur's entry. Eventually, he drove in four Indy 500s, but attained celebrity status among race fans for designing and building the cars that won Indy in 1920 and 1921.
Now, some 100 years after the founding of the marque, sports continue to help fuel Chevrolet's marketing initiatives. According to a recent study from Chicago-based IEG Sponsorship Report, GM spends about $185 million annually on sports sponsorships. And, since Joel Ewanick, GM's global marketing boss, joined the automaker in May 2010, much of that spending has been by Chevy.
GM also returned to the Super Bowl in February -- a marquee spot for Chevrolet, its first time in the big game since 2008.
But Chevy's most notable and visible sports partnerships are with Major League Baseball and NASCAR. Chevrolet has been the Official Vehicle of Major League Baseball since 2005 and drew kudos last year for upping the financial ante on its ad support for the World Series enough to allow Game 3 of the Fall Classic to begin at 6:57 p.m. EST -- more than an hour earlier than the usual scheduled start time of World Series games and far more family-friendly.
NASCAR is where the brand has had its most in-depth relationship, going back to the start of the racing league in the 1950s. This year, by early October, Chevys had won 14 of the Sprint Cup Series' 30 races run, with Ford, Dodge and Toyota dividing the other 16.
Rich Thomaselli spoke with Phil Caruso, manager of Chevrolet national promotions, and Terry Dolan, manager of Chevrolet racing, about the brand's involvement in sports marketing.
What has Chevrolet's connection with racing meant to the company and the brand?
Terry Dolan: Our early days in racing enabled the exploration of new technology and the ability to use the events as a proving ground for component reliability. Our success in racing has allowed us to develop and evolve the technology used in our vehicles, as well as expand our marketing opportunities.
Our Corvette Z06 and the ZR1, for example, contain advanced technology, materials and engineering solutions directly transferred from the race car to the street . Additionally, motorsports and sports in general have become a critical part of our overall marketing strategy. We now look at sports properties that fit with Chevrolet's brand character and allow us to tap into the passionate fans and their lifestyle interests. Sports have been a key part of our historical marketing efforts and will continue to be as we build our future marketing portfolio.
How important has NASCAR been to Chevy?
Dolan: Over the years, NASCAR has risen from its Southern roots to events being hosted coast to coast. NASCAR provides scale and reach, providing marketing efficiency for big box brands. More than 100 million unique viewers tune into NASCAR broadcasts each season, making NASCAR second to the NFL in sports programming. Additionally, race fans are automotive enthusiasts, they are passionate about cars and trucks and they are technology savvy. They are perceived as "automotive experts" among their friends and peers. Race fans are often informal go-to people for automotive advice and influencers for the purchase of new and used vehicles.
Are you able to quantify that ? Has GM/Chevy or even NASCAR done a brand-loyalty survey among NASCAR fans?
Dolan: We continue to monitor the effectiveness of our motorsports portfolio through internal and external research. NASCAR significantly outperforms GM benchmarks for loyalty and conquest rates with double-digit increases over our benchmarks in both categories.
Talk about Chevy's association with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his role as the most popular driver in NASCAR.
Dolan: Chevrolet has actually enjoyed a long-term relationship with the Earnhardt family, dating back to Dale Jr.'s grandfather, Ralph . Dale Jr.'s father, Dale Earnhardt, earned six NASCAR drivers' championships behind the wheel of a Chevrolet racing for Richard Childress.
Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress Racing defined Chevrolet's on-track achievements during the 1980s and 1990s. The sight of the Black No. 3 Chevrolet with the legendary "Intimidator" behind the wheel influenced many drivers to move out of the way.
Dale Jr. is a passionate Chevrolet ambassador, frequently seen around town in Mooresville, N.C., [where he lives] behind the wheel of his Silverado or a classic Chevrolet pickup or one of his numerous Camaros.
What about Chevy's association with Major League Baseball? Perhaps the most famous jingle in all of advertising involved both baseball and Chevrolet.
Caruso: Chevrolet has had a long-standing association with MLB that originated at the team level.
We developed baseball into a national platform, with the partnership of MLB in 2005, giving Chevrolet naming rights as the Official Vehicle of Major League Baseball. Since 2006, we have added a grass-roots program to our platform called Chevy Youth Baseball, which is designed to grow the sport of baseball at the local level, connecting nearly 1,500 dealers with local baseball leagues.
Over the years, we have positioned the baseball platform as a community-based initiative that connects key assets from our MLB partnership and team partnerships with the local community.
We launched the Diamonds and Dreams promotion, which further demonstrates our commitment to growing the sport by providing field makeovers, equipment and baseball clinics to communities across America.
Is Chevy committed to staying with Major League Baseball?
Caruso: We are committed to growing the sports of baseball and MLB, and local teams are a key part of the plan.
What is Chevy's role in other sports?
Caruso: Sports allow us to market to the mass. We continue to look at sports as a key way to connect our brand with the fans' passion.
Chevrolet has a natural organic connection in the outdoor space, as truck owners are very active in hunting, fishing and family outdoor activity. We strategically position ourselves as the Official Truck of the Outdoors and have developed partnerships with FLW Outdoors, Realtree, Bone Collectors and Cabela's.
Is there a philosophy you use as it relates to marketing the Chevy brand through sports?
Caruso: Be relevant and authentic in our marketing efforts. We will continue to build on our successful platforms, while looking at new opportunities through sports to reach a younger audience to grow our business.