What does the Coca-Cola 600 have to do with Coca-Cola?
Its not just the name.
Its walking into Charlotte Motor Speedway and seeing the Coca-Cola logo everywhere you turn, including one of the new pit-side hospitality suites.
Its free Coca-Cola hats, Koozies and flags for infield campers, who deck out their campsites in red and white for a Coke-sponsored contest.
Its Danica Patrick, who competes on the Coca-Cola race team, tweeting from an airplane about Coke Zero: @CokeZero still has no cals and ALL the flavor!
Sundays Coca-Cola 600, expected to attract about 140,000, marks the 28th time the beverage giant has put its name on the speedways signature event. Two years ago, Coca-Cola North America and Speedway Motorsports extended the partnership through 2015.
What were trying to do with this event is to try to reinforce an emotional attachment with this brand or ... to create one, said Lauren Steele, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Coca-Cola Consolidated. Coke is pretty well-known No. 1 recognized trademark in the world but you can lose that if you lose sight of that one-on-one relationship with (the customer).
There are now more avenues than ever for Coca-Cola to market itself and the race, from using social media campaigns, to handing out free samples in the infield, to entertaining retail and grocery clients in high-end hospitality suites.
Its all good exposure for Coca-Cola Co., based in Atlanta, which reported a worldwide net profit of more than $2 billion this past quarter, and Charlotte-based Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, a distribution arm that employs about 1,400 people at its headquarters in the South Park area.
Coca-Cola spent $765 million on advertising worldwide last quarter, according to a securities filing. It has a dominant 41.9 percent share of the U.S. consumer soft drink market, according to data from trade publication Beverage Digest. Its next closest competitor, Pepsi Co., has a 28.5 percent market share, and last year Diet Coke surpassed Pepsi as the second most popular soda.
Kirk Wakefield, executive director of the sports sponsorship and sales program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has done extensive research on the effect of sports sponsorships on brands and said connecting the sport with the brand is key.
We dont typically wear too many shirts and jerseys with Coke and Pepsi on the front of it, he said. We dont get real excited and tailgate at the grocery store but we do (get excited) about our sports, he said.
Neither the speedway nor Coca-Cola disclosed how much the company is spending on this years race. In general, an annual deal for a billboard on Turn 3 costs an average of about $100,000 and a video advertisement on the tracks high-definition video board can cost between $100,000 and $250,000, said speedway spokesman Scott Cooper.
While Coca-Cola has an exclusivity deal and might pay less for individual advertisements, the company has almost literally painted the speedway red with all of its branding.
The company is hosting events for infield campers, who pitch tents and park RVs at the track for up to 11 days in anticipation of the race. This includes a movie night on the big screen and a contest for the best Coca-Cola decorated campsites, with prizes such as gas cards and signed merchandise.
Some fans, like Tony McCall, 42, and Dee Satterfield, 51, of Greenville, S.C., decorate their RV just for fun. They spent $150 on Coke products from eBay on the off chance they might win the contest. Others, like William Slater, 52, of Anderson, S.C., take it a little more seriously.
Slaters trailer is painted red with a white, hand-painted Cola-Cola script across both the front and back. A stuffed Coca-Cola bottle hangs from his door and a table out front is filled with everything from a Coke lamp to a Coke napkin dispenser. He has a Coca-Cola bottle from 1911 that he bought at a yard sale. It still has the original soda inside.
I love Coke, he said. I wont touch Pepsi for no reason. Pepsi is not allowed in my house.
He said his love of Coke comes from being a truck driver, when the soda got him through many a night.
Its nice to associate Coca-Cola with the racing and the camping and the friendships, said Sally Patchin, 60, another infield camper. You see a Coca-Cola sign and you think of the next time youre going to go to a race.
The company also taps into NASCAR passion through its sponsorship of certain drivers, known as the Coca-Cola racing family.
This year those include Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Bobby Labonte, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and Patrick, the newest member.
Wakefield said NASCAR sponsorships are valuable because sponsors really do make or break drivers.
What you find among NASCAR fans is theyre extremely passionate about their drivers, and theyre very well aware ... that sponsorship plays a role in the success of the driver, he said.
And because of Coca-Colas financial power and popularity, the sponsorship works especially well because people will remember Coca-Cola better than a smaller-name brand, Wakefield said.
The biggest brands have the best drivers and have the best events, he said. In terms of just how our minds work, it also has the best payoff.
The race is also a venue for Coca-Cola to tout newer products like Coke Zero or Vitamin Water and to associate those products with a lifestyle NASCAR fans connect to, Wakefield said. And, of course, the race brings in lots of people who will buy Coke products.
This is huge for Charlotte, huge for Coca-Cola, Steele said. Lots of employees have been working very hard for months to get ready for this. We will sell lots of our products out at the track ... It will be warm, so people are going to be thirsty.