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Car companies want more from events than just signs

Automotive News, April 09, 2007

By Laura Clark Geist

How seriously do automakers take event marketing as a way to reach potential customers? Before agreeing to sponsor an event, several car companies want organizers to hand over their membership rosters.

``Some organizations are reluctant to give member lists and let us do target marketing,'' says George Murphy, the Chrysler group's senior vice president of global brand marketing. ``We are playing hardball.''

Some groups comply. For example, the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association says it gives its member list to Dodge, a sponsor.

Others don't. The National FFA Organization, formerly the Future Farmers of America, has received sponsorship money from General Motors, Ford Motor Co., the Chrysler group and Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. But Dennis Sargent, the executive director of FFA's fundraising foundation, said, ``Our lists are not for sale.

``It is not in the best interests of the students or their families,'' Sargent told Automotive News. ``We need to protect their privacy.''

Other event sponsors try to split the difference. The Professional Bull Riders Association does not distribute its membership list. But it let Ford advertise a text-message number at an event the company sponsored. That enabled spectators to contact Ford by cell phone for a truck promotion.

Active roles

William Chipps, senior editor of IEG Sponsorship Report, says automakers use sponsorships to create sales opportunities.

``Any company that is a smart sponsor is going to look for a lot more from a property than just signage and on-site displays,'' says Chipps, whose trade publication covers event marketing.

Ford division sponsorships used to consist of putting the company's ``oval on a wall'' and setting up vehicle displays, says Ben Poore, Ford's truck marketing manager. Now, he says, Ford uses events to contact participants directly.

``We're working through the entire purchase funnel,'' Poore says.
IEG estimates that the six largest automakers spent more than $625 million last year on sponsorships in the United States, up 10.6 percent from 2005.

Chipps predicts that import-brand car companies will increase their event sponsorship spending by a similar percentage this year. He expects domestic brands to show ``flat spending to modest gains.''

The IEG figures include sponsorship fees that automakers pay for events such as music festivals, youth athletics and sporting events. They do not include spending on car company ride-and-drives that are not tied to outside consumer events.

Exploring the Tundra

Toyota Division and its dealers are sponsoring events such as fishing tournaments and hunting shows to promote the redesigned Tundra pickup.

``It's not what we do in mass media,'' says Jim Farley, Toyota Division's group vice president of marketing. ``It's what we do where you learn about the product, in person and interactive.''

Ford and its dealers increased their support of the National FFA Organization from about $800,000 in 2005 to $1 million last year. Last October, Ford's Poore addressed the group's annual convention in Indianapolis.

``There were next-generation truck buyers right on the floor'' of the convention, Poore says.

The Chrysler group's Murphy says his company will sponsor ``fewer but more impactful events'' this year. Its event marketing budget will be mostly flat, he says.

Effective sponsorships promote events that consumers ``are passionate about'' and allow the company to conduct related ride-and-drives, Murphy says.

Fans who attend selected auto races this year can get rides around the track in a Dodge Viper or SRT truck. The Chrysler brand offers ride-and-drives at Professional Golfers' Association tournaments it sponsors in Greensboro, N.C., and Tampa, Fla.

``At good events, we will have 11 to 18 percent of people who took a test drive and bought a vehicle,'' Murphy says. ``Those are high conversion rates.''