Panasonic Takes B-to-B Effort to the Kentucky Derby

Brand's Story Told on TV, Enormous Outdoor Screen

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Panasonic is using TV, the web and a 15,244-square-foot, ultra-high-definition-LED video screen that it made to prove to potential business customers attending and watching the Kentucky Derby that it's a worthy technology partner.

Anyone attending major sporting events has been exposed to a massive Panasonic screen, but the problem the $74 billion company has had is few know they're involved. As such, Panasonic, with the help of Havas Media -- its agency since 2009 -- partnered with NBC and Churchill Downs to explain the company's involvement with "the most watched two minutes in sports."

At Churchill Downs, Panasonic installed the massive, $12 million video board midway down the backstretch, outside of the dirt course, raised 80 feet in the air. Measuring 171 feet wide by 170 feet high, it is the largest, ultra-high-definition video board in the world. In terms of large-scale Panasonic screens, it is second only to the one installed at the Texas Motor Speedway, which measures 20,633 square feet.

For Panasonic and its b-to-b goals, the screens are "just eye candy," according to company chief marketing officer Betty Noonan.

Havas Media, Panasonic and NBC worked with Churchill Downs to create a story that will be told during NBC's Kentucky Derby coverage and put the Panasonic screen front and center. The creative juxtaposes the horses coming out to start Derby Day at an empty racetrack with the screen showing historical race finishes, as if the horses are dreaming (think "Rudy" when he first sets foot in Notre Dame's stadium). The video will highlight Panasonic's technology solutions and innovation. Thirty-second spots will run throughout NBC's race day coverage, during The Oaks -- the popular filly race held the day before -- on NBCSN, and as pre-roll during the live streaming of the event.

Betsy Noonan
Betsy Noonan

"Marketing has changed completely, especially in b-to-b. It's not just ads and PR, it's telling stories, developing the content and pushing it out through the right channels and partnerships," said Ms. Noonan. "We went to NBC and said we want to integrate our story with your broadcast of this event, which has a strong business audience. We said 'let's move away from the 'spot,' and they said 'we're in.' Havas then went with NBC to produce professional content to tell the story of what Panasonic and Churchill Downs has done."

Panasonic also has some hospitality at the event to help generate leads, but Ms. Noonan stressed that for many people attending the event they aren't able to actually see the race -- one of the main reasons Churchill Downs approached Panasonic about a large screen.

"Our goal is to grow our sports entertainment business and enable our customers to deliver new experiences. We need to fill the pipeline with other customers, so we are hosting folks across industries at the event as well," said Ms. Noonan. "Ultimately, this effort is less about broad awareness of the Panasonic brand and more about what we're doing."

She also noted that Panasonic's b-to-b business has grown "significantly" since she came on as CMO over two years ago, with North America and Japan making up the majority of revenue from b-to-b. In fact, 80% of Panasonic's North American revenue is generated from its b-to-b initiatives.

When Havas Media became aware of Panasonic's work with Churchill Downs, it began thinking about what unique creative messaging it could do for the company.

"We knew about their b-to-b structure. They're not really a consumer electronics company anymore, they're more of a technology solutions company for businesses, but how do you tell that story," said Jeff Gagne, senior VP-strategic investments at Havas Media. "When we heard about the installation at Churchill Downs -- we did a lot of work with NBC around Olympics -- we said 'let's talk.' It's not about building ad units, we thought it was a good opportunity to tell a story."

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