Cigarettes are a part of how motorsport grew into a mammoth of a deal, as ironic as that sounds. The tobacco companies spent excessively to help their teams lure the fastest drivers, thus gaining maximum exposure for their money. This kind of method was most evident in Formula 1, where the actual thing happened: the greatest drivers of yesteryears almost all raced for teams that had major tobacco money.
Fifteen years since F1 banned their biggest advertising customers, they are still fighting to build their modern image. More than that, not everyone followed suit. Many regional racing events in Europe still allow tobacco and alcohol advertising on competing vehicles. Nevertheless, the world of motorsport moved on from the cash injection from their most influential partners and their biggest ethical conundrum.
It is not dead, but removed from the biggest possible event. So, what is the issue?
Exemplary Liveries, Unwanted Effect, Bad Timing
The divorce of mainstream motorsport and tobacco advertising was not messy, but it was detrimental to both parties. Cigarette companies lost their biggest horse, racing lost its biggest bettor. You can say that now, it is all forgotten, thanks to the bosses at Formula 1, MotoGP and various V8 Championships and their effort to boost the advertising value of their events.
But, no company today advertised like the tobacco titans. Unlike them, these modern-day sponsors are less involved in the sport and are more like pure financial partners. Before, Marlboro, Camel, Mild Seven, Rothmans and other cigarette producers want their liveries adorning the cars with the fastest drivers getting pole positions. They also struck gold because the drivers before were monuments to the sport.
To name a few: Schumacher won five straight titles with a Marlboro streak just behind him, Ayrton Senna also raced a Marlboro-backed McLaren-Honda, the yellow of Camel on Nigel Mansell’s championship car, the list goes on and on. In the Australian Touring scene of the 90’s, the best cars had Winfield sponsorship.
Furthermore, the tobacco guys knew how to advertise and boy, did they have legendary liveries. Even from the start of the partnership at Lotus, the ads were just phenomenal. What do people remember about Fernando Alonso’s championships from ‘06 and ’07? It was the big Mild Seven logos, which complemented his Renault car very well. Again with Marlboro, who were present in the fastest cars in F1, World Rally, NASCAR and more.
Now, is there any driver that can match these champions’ prestige, let alone touch base with Schumacher and Senna? No one, and that is the problem. The brands went well with the driver, but now, the driver goes well with the car. There is no conscious connection with the sponsors anymore. The last big palpable link between sponsor and driver was when Jenson Button shaved his beard because McLaren took Gillette on as a sponsor.
What is There to Learn
Companies should take note that motorsport is wildly popular and advertising here is an exposure gold mine. People watch the cars, intently, and as a result, they see the brands repeatedly for hours. Even in events outside of F1, the V8 Supercars in Australia as an example, the crowd is immense. Wherever you look at it, in television or physical numbers, motorsport livery makes an impact, a big impact.
This is why tobacco poured hundreds of millions into the sport. Your budget may not be as big, but whatever premium that comes with motorsport advertising is worth it.
Most importantly, it is crucial to have the right advertising partner. It does not necessarily mean having a Marlboro-Ferrari kind of marriage, but the print has to be memorable. More than that, it has to be top quality, according to Event Display. These vehicles go to the absolute limit and it is not just the car that has to keep up. If you are planning to use them as marketing vessels, your livery should last.
Tobacco sponsorship taught the whole advertising world something: the influence of money fades, so you have to make do with the time and space you have. In marketing terms, make your liveries memorable and bet on the right team.