Deal Is Danica Patrick's First Beauty-Product Endorsement

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CINCINNATI (AdAge.com) -- Procter & Gamble Co.’s Secret antiperspirant may be strong enough for a man, but it’s made for a woman race-car driver -– specifically 23-year-old Indy Racing League phenom Danica Patrick, who is becoming a pitchwoman for the leading U.S. women’s deodorant.
Photo: AP
Danica Patrick will hawk Secret antiperspirant from the Indy Racing League circuit.

A first for Indy Racing
In a deal announced today, the 2005 Indy 500 rookie of the year will bear the Secret logo and appear in still unspecified marketing efforts for the brand, likely to include TV and print ads. It’s the first marketing deal in memory between an Indy Racing League driver and a woman’s personal-care brand and also a first for Ms. Patrick, who heretofore has shunned beauty or personal-care endorsements.

“Danica really embodies the brand character of secret, which is a strong-yet-feminine woman,” a P&G spokeswoman said. “Her individuality, her persistence -– really she embodies several qualities of what the Secret brand represents.”

High-risk sport
It doesn’t hurt, she added, that Ms. Patrick performs in a sweaty, high-risk sport where she not only competes against men but also beats them. Secret two years ago modified its longtime selling line, “Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman,” to simply “Strong enough for a woman.”

Ms. Patrick finished fourth at the Indy 500 in May and led the race for 19 laps. Before that, she was turning heads with her looks, having posed scantily clad two years ago in FHM. After catching some flack for that layout, Ms. Patrick has chosen endorsement deals carefully and avoided, up to now, linking up with beauty brands.

“Danica represents something pretty special,” said Indy racing legend Bobby Rahal, co-owner with David Letterman of Rahal Letterman Racing, for whom Ms. Patrick races. “Here’s a woman competing successfully head to head against guys ... and that doesn’t happen much in the world of sport. But women compete pretty effectively every day against men in the world of business, so she’s pretty relevant to that. This is trend setting [for the Indy Racing Leauge], but a lot of it has to do with Danica and the job she’s doing on and off the track.”

Could replace Michael Jordan
Ms. Patrick was ranked earlier this week by Advertising Age as the top candidate to replace Michael Jordan as a top athlete endorser, and the level of interest from marketers appears to confirm that, Mr. Rahal said. “We have been fielding quite a lot of inquiries,” he said. “Some of it’s been finalized as we speak.” But he said unlike the Secret deal, most of Ms. Patrick’s marketing deals to date have been personal services contracts that don’t also involve the racing team or exposure during competition.

“I believe she’s going to be even more news next year at Indianapolis,” Mr. Rahal said. “Now we have a celebrity, a person who really transcended the sport.”

The Secret deal is one indication that Ms. Patrick could help bring new attention, particularly from women, to a sport that’s been in long-term decline. “We’re already seeing a lot of new fans at the events,” Mr. Rahal said. “And it’s not just young girls, but you’re seeing more men, and not just young guys, but also older men who find her story so compelling.”

Thanks to what many now call “Danica Mania,” the Nashville Speedway recently was sold out for a July race in which Ms. Patrick also led briefly before finishing seventh. And the IRL’s TV ratings are up 49% this year.

Nascar plays catch up
In a rare instance of Nascar having to play catch up, it now has launched diversity and driver-development programs designed to bring women drivers into the sport, Mr. Rahal said.

Beauty advertisers may look to play catch up now, too, he said. “I think once this is announced, competitors of P&G will also be looking much more closely at this advertising venue.”

P&G declined to comment on the size of the Secret deal. Ms. Patrick already has deals in place with Argent Insurance and Bebe clothing that net her about $1 million a year and smaller deals with Peak antifreeze and Mr. Clean Premium Windshield Wash.

Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, handles creative for Secret, and sibling Starcom MediaVest Group handles communications planning and media buying.

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