The phrase win on Sunday, sell on Monday is familiar to most NASCAR fans, and certainly to those involved in the commercial end of racing, but there's no guarantee.
Even as the world economy struggles, high-end brands are spending millions of dollars to associate themselves with the most successful drivers and teams on the track. But, according to a new study, on-track success does not necessarily translate into top-of-mind awareness among fans.
Lowes Cos., for instance, sponsors Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Sprint Cup team, which won three straight championships and 22 races in the 2006-2008 seasons, but the research done by the firm FanLab showed Home Depot with greater consumer awareness.
Budweiser was first in the FanLab findings, Home Depot second and Lowe's third.
Lowe's also has been title sponsor of one of the leading facilities hosting NASCAR events, Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. That sponsorship is ending after a one-year extension of the original contract.
FanLabs study also showed that several companies spending millions in NASCAR - DeWalt, Toyota, Ford, 3M and Red Bull, among them - struggle to connect with fans on basic awareness measures.
Among the manufacturers in stock car racing, only Chevrolet was in the top 25 in the firm's findings. Four percent of fans mentioned Chevy when prompted for NASCAR sponsors, compared with 11 percent for series sponsor Sprint and 23 percent for team sponsor Home Depot.
Our findings show that fans dont view the auto manufacturers as sponsors, said Brian Evans, FanLab's co-founder. While fans know that they are involved in and contribute ... they dont think of manufacturers the same way as they think of team sponsors like Budweiser or M&Ms.
The sponsorship study was conducted in June 2009 and included a national random sample of 1,044 consumers. Participants were recruited through an online panel, and were asked first about top-of-mind sponsors involved in NASCAR and then about their interest level in NASCAR and other professional sports.
Many sponsors rely on media exposure and awareness metrics like these to evaluate the success of their sponsorship. But these metrics tell us little about whether the sponsorship is changing the way fans think, feel and act toward the brand, Evans said.
If you want to know what brand is king in NASCAR, do an awareness study. If you want to know whether your sponsorship is paying dividends, you must dig deeper. We have looked at sponsors with low awareness levels, but found significant returns on their investment.
Coca-Cola was fourth in the Fanlab study. The research company's Evans said that was a relatively high ranking for Coke, given the company doesn't have its a team carrying its brand.
The beverage giant is, however, the official "non-alcoholic beverage," the "official soft drink" and "official sport drink" of NASCAR . It is also an associate sponsor for 14 drivers and has its name on two races, including NASCAR's longest event, the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in May.
FedEx, which sponsors a team, did not make the top 25 while the "official delivery service" and team sponsor UPS ranked 14th. Aflac, "official supplemental insurance" and a team sponsor, was 23rd.
"If you're in the top 20, you're connecting with fans and that program should be working for you," Evans said.
Said Coca-Cola North America spokeswoman Susan Stribling: "Our brand is just woven throughout the sport. It's a different approach than others take and it's worked very, very well for us," according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.