Rule number one of great sports marketing? Don’t mess with the formula. But, some sports are all about pushing the limits.
Any sport lives or dies by its fans – but it was clear in the past previous ownership had treated fans simply as numbers, and not as passionate individuals seeking entertainment and experience. As a result, F1 suffered years of commercial decline and increasingly negative perceptions.
Liberty Media acquired Formula 1 in 2017 and with a new marketing and agency team on board, the decision was taken to reposition one of the world’s most classic and iconic sporting franchises. Moving away from old-stories of heritage and glamour and re-focusing on the raw excitement of the greatest racing spectacle on the planet. F1 needed to expand into new generations and territories to bring in 100MM new fans by 2022, new fans need new heroes, new stories and a new approach.
Quantitative studies put ‘speed’ as main appeal of the sport. But F1 was faster than it had ever been and yet fans were saying it wasn’t as thrilling to watch. We had to dig deeper into what fans love about F1 and what was lacking.
It’s isn’t about the chequered flag or the podium or the cold, technical ideas about ‘speed’. Fans spoke of F1 for it being raw, gritty, dangerous. It was about moments of engineered insanity, it was about humans. To bring more people into F1 we needed to bring out the human side of the story and dial up the racing.
A new brand identity was developed and each communications touchpoint was redesigned. The launch platform, “Engineered Insanity”, celebrated the juxtaposition of extremes that makes F1 so unique - man and machine, control and chaos, rubber and cement, sweat and oil.
We segmented the audience to understand motivations of “engaged”, “light & lapsed”, and “yet-to-try” fans. Attitudinal predictors for F1 fandom were also identified: the belief that F1 as a whole is exciting - priming fans to be positively predisposed towards F1; the belief that the racing right now is competitive - triggering fans to follow the action and invest time and money.
These perceptions form a vicious/virtuous circle for fans and mean engagement/disengagement spreads from fan to fan. To capture these feedback loops we used the concept of ‘fan journeys’ – circuits, not funnels, in which each turn around the ‘track’ would set up the conditions for the next: priming interest in the sport, triggering excitement at season start and in the run-up to each Grand Prix, active participation and following of the season, driving personal outcomes. We used media to turbo-charge fan journeys and conversions to drive “engaged” fan following.
The first-ever brand campaign “ENGINEERED INSANITY” launched in March, and across the rest of the season campaigns ran in 20 countries with a budget of only £5MM.
We progressively expanded our targeting to followers of F1 teams, motorsport content, eSports, gaming and high-affinity sports (NBA, NFL) to drive affinity in priority markets. Every touchpoint was re-engineered across Paid, Owned and Earned to excite a global tribe of fans.
F1 isn’t just a calendar of races, it’s local Superbowls from Australia to Azerbaijan, from China to USA. We crashed screens and streets to drive awareness, buzz and ticket sales. Campaigns activation ran in the 4-8 weeks prior, including street teams, partnerships, TV, radio, OOH domination, murals, and geo-targeted social, display and video.
We took F1 out of its echo-chamber, into hearts and minds of new fans and in 2019 driving onwards with the world’s fastest remix with Chemical Brothers and NEEEUM.
Smashed it like it was Hammer Time. F1 isn’t just back, F1 has gained new fans, new momentum and a new mythology. Results exceeded all expectations:
• 10% increase in global TV audience = +48MM
• 8% increase in total Grand Prix attendance, with up to 30% more tickets sold for some races
• F1 became the fastest-growing sport on social media. Up to 75% of growth directly attributable to paid media activity
• 70% of fans thought 2018 was more interesting than 2017
• 30-50% increase in weekly global search volumes per race, up 14% YoY
• The equivalent of 16 years of additional digital content was watched by the new and existing fans
The pedal is still being stuck to the metal in 2019 and beyond. Lights out.