The black tarp was pulled off a stock car in the middle of Times Square, revealing a new paint scheme for the Chevrolet that, in addition to the famed neon No. 48 of NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson, now featured the logo of Ally.
Andrea Brimmer, Ally’s chief marketing and PR officer, got the chills.
And not just from the frigid New York air, she said.
“It was a big moment for us,” Brimmer said in a phone interview last month, the same day Ally and Johnson unveiled the new paint scheme on ABC’s “Good Morning America” show. “Our brand is still relatively young and we really haven’t done anything this big before.”
It certainly is a big stage for Ally, which will be the primary sponsor of Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team for the entire 2019 and 2020 NASCAR seasons.
Ally will first be featured on Johnson’s car for the 2019 DAYTONA Speedweeks, which was set to start Saturday and run through Feb. 17, and the DAYTONA 500 on Feb. 17.
The partnership kicked into full gear on Jan. 11, with the reveal. Ally, Johnson and Make-A-Wish had teamed up to surprise a 10-year-old Florida boy named Trevin, who has cystic fibrosis, and his father, a veteran, with a trip to the reveal and a trip for the young fellow to the DAYTONA 500 as Johnson’s guest.
“And the little boy’s a huge Jimmie Johnson (and) NASCAR fan and we let him pull the tarp off with Jimmie and surprised him with a trip to Daytona,” Brimmer said in the January interview, calling it a “real emotional moment.”
“And then to see our brand on that car like that and know that thing is going to be racing all season long, starting with Daytona, going 190 miles an hour around the track. It’s just a really big moment as a marketer,” she said. “I didn’t sleep very well last night. I was like a little kid at Christmas.”
Utilizing the sports business for marketing can bear many gifts for automotive businesses like Ally. For one, there’s a “very ubiquitous appeal” to sports, Brimmer said, giving marketers the chance to reach a wide array of people.
“It isn’t any one particular demographic that likes sports. It isn’t one gender that likes sports. It’s kind of everybody, so you have this massive appeal and this massive reach in sports that is really important to marketers,” Brimmer said.
“The second thing is, in today’s world of DVRing and being able to block ad content and block brands out, sports are live,” she said. “And people are watching and consuming sports in live media, and it allows us to make sure that our brand doesn’t get blocked or doesn’t get ignored.”
Brimmer also points out that there, “aren’t very many mediums that are like that anymore, where your brand can show up in a live format in front of the consumer in a way that makes that kind of sense.”
And NASCAR, in particular, makes sense for Ally, given the company’s rich automotive history.
“Our roots are as an automotive lender and we’re one of the largest captive auto finance companies in the country. We do business with over 18,000 dealers. And motor oil just kind of runs through our veins,” Brimmer said. “You’re not going to find a sport where you’re going to have that kind of rabid, passionate fan base for what automotive is all about like you are in NASCAR.”
The company also has a long relationship with Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick as well as his Hendrick Automotive dealer group, she said. Johnson’s contract with the Hendrick Motorsports team runs through 2020.
“You just know that they’re good, classy people, and that it’s a good safe, place to align your brand with their brand and the brand of Jimmie Johnson and the 48 car,” Brimmer said. “So as a marketer, all the pieces of the puzzle kind of fit together.”
Including the spokesperson himself, who has won seven NASCAR Cup Series championships, tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the all-time high. He won the Cup five straight times (2006-2010), and during that streak, Johnson was named Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year — the first race car driver to do so.
Being aligned with someone like Johnson brings “an automatic uplift for your brand,” Brimmer said.
“He’s just a really good guy and his values align very closely with the values of our company. And you look for partners that exemplify and bring to life what your brand is about as a marketer, and I think Jimmie – he’s that. He’s classy, he’s a family man. He believes really strongly in giving back and changing people’s lives in positive ways. And we love that, ” she said.
“And then lastly, Jimmie’s celebrity status is bigger than just NASCAR. Even if you’re not a NASCAR fan, you know who Jimmie Johnson is,” Brimmer said. “He’s done Olympic broadcasts, he runs marathons, he’s a huge biker, he’s got just a big following.”
Having someone whose cachet goes beyond NASCAR brings value, Brimmer said.
“His appeal is much larger than just the NASCAR audience. And so, for us, that’s a real tangible value, where when you associate with somebody like that, you can extend your brand to a whole new group of people that might not have ever paid attention to your brand before as a result of being associated with a guy like Jimmie,” she said.
The sponsorship will largely be utilized for brand awareness, with the opportunity to bring dealer customers to races, as well. Additionally, with the size of the NASCAR, Hendrick team and Johnson fanbases, there are some digital marketing opportunities, as well.
“And so it’s going to give us an opportunity to do some really sophisticated things relative to digital marketing, to be able to really capture those names, target those people and then start to go out build that particular affinity with the Ally brand and Ally products,” she said.
AuSM has launched a new series, “DRIVING FORCE: The Business Intersection of Sports & Automotive,” to discuss the car industry's involvement in sports business — through marketing partnerships, ownership stakes, working as sister companies under the same corporate umbrella and other ventures.
For more, see the Feb. 1 edition of AuSM magazine.