Losing GoDaddy May Well Boost Danica Patrick
It's not Danica Patrick's fault she's attractive. And it's hard to blame her for what she's done to date to build herself up to her current opportunity driving in the Sprint Cup series. From racy ads to pictorals in FHM and Maxim to appearing in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue, Patrick has left little to the imagination of racing fans. But the very assets that have launched her career are threatening to bring it crashing down. Striking out in a new direction might be painful at first but it could very well end up being the best possible thing for her long-term success.
Since she burst onto the racing scene in 2004, Danica Patrick utilized every tool in her arsenal to build interest in her brand. Much of that interest stemmed from the fact that she was a physically attractive woman in what has traditionally been a man's world. Sure, other women have raced in both IndyCar and NASCAR in the last 20 years. But frankly, none of them had anywhere near the same level of sex appeal. The fact that she finished 4th in her first try at Indy and was in a competitive ride was merely icing on the cake. In short, she was an advertiser's dream; young, attractive, successful with a clean track record and limitless marketability.
The Sponsor's Star
I love love
GoDaddy, a fledgling internet web domain provider best known for its racy television ads, jumped at the chance to make Patrick a focus of their advertising. They sponsored Patrick from 2007 onward, starting out as an associate sponsor on her Indy car and later following her to Nationwide and finally Sprint Cup series competition. They featured Patrick in numerous ads including 12 different Super Bowl commercials. GoDaddy continued to increase its industry-leading share of the web domain market on the back of those commercials. Yet with new CEO Blake Irving focusing on other branding opportunities and messages, the days of, “Putting the hot girl in a swimsuit = Profit,” look to be long gone.
Patrick seems to be fine with this. Her most recent GoDaddy commercials have let someone else take the lead in taking off their clothes. In media appearances her dress is either a firesuit or conservative business-casual attire that seems designed to play down her physical attractiveness. Going from being married to a much older man to dating someone five years your junior doesn't exactly tone it down but then again, it's hard to quantify anything when it comes to the heart. As David Reutimann once said, “I love love.” In short, she is looking to sell herself differently at 30 than she did at 21.
Kyle Petty Calls Danica A "Marketing Machine"
Less NASCAR, More World Cup
The rumblings of change are on the distant horizon but no less real for that distance. GoDaddy head Young has already identified the World Cup as a major sponsorship opportunity and is targeting the Latin American market. Neither of those has much to do with NASCAR. AP's Jenna Fryer, in a terrific article published yesterday, also quoted Young as saying, “I do see social media, and do see Danica beat up sometimes.” It looks like Young doesn't like people saying nasty things about his most expensive advertiser on Twitter.
And those comments aren't likely to stop any time soon. More traditional NASCAR fans hate Danica Patrick for a number of reasons. Kyle Petty, speaking firmly out of both sides of his mouth, recently accused her of not being a real racer. While his comments were ill-informed (talking about her poor race results relative to qualifying despite having a higher finish average than qualifying average), Petty speaks for many old-school fans who believe Patrick has done something nefarious to get where she has so far. They believe that if the name on the door said “Dan Patrick”, he wouldn't be past the Truck Series right now. And make no mistake about it, those same fans are reveling in Patrick's lack of success at the Cup level this year. You can hear their gleeful voices laugh louder with every 30th place finish. That her entire team has struggled much of 2013 is irrelevant. That she is a rookie only five slots behind the other major rookie (one with far more stock car experience) is also irrelevant.
In their eyes, she is a woman and she is unworthy. And therein lies the problem. While certainly Danica has faced significant adversity in racing based on her gender, the tables have turned since she reached IndyCar in 2004. The one thing that worked so hard against her was now something she could sell- and sell she did. As noted earlier, there is nothing wrong in using every asset at your disposal in the racing game. But the end result is that many fans have a hard time taking her seriously. Partnering with GoDaddy, a company built on the concept of women as sex objects, isn't helping.
Facing A New Door
When the current sponsorship agreement ends after next season, both sides would benefit from moving in another direction. GoDaddy seems to already be laying the foundation to reduce or outright eliminate their investment in Patrick. Young is a former Microsoft exec and he's focusing on more traditional advertising. He wants his ads to educate the buying public on what GoDaddy does and what they offer. Humor has a place in his life but not in his ads. It's hard to see how spending $35-40M a year to sponsor Patrick fits into those plans- particularly with the lack of on-track results to date.
Danica, on the other hand, still has the opportunity to crack open a whole new world of advertisers. As she enters mid-life, she becomes the target demo for a host of advertisers whose products and ads are far different than the ones she's pitched in the last ten years. She can add a hint of edge to those products based on what she does for a living while re-branding herself.
If I were in the marketing arm of Stewart-Haas Racing, one door I would be beating down right now is that of Proctor and Gamble. P&G is an enormous company, one that did over $83 billion in sales last year. Their umbrella of product offerings contains numerous items your average thirty-something couple has in their homes- from Bounty paper towels to Crest toothpaste to Olay beauty products to Tide detergent. Many of those products are tailor-made for a spokeswoman such as Patrick. The ads involving paper towels cleaning up oil spills or Tide detergent cleaning up Daytona after Juan Pablo Montoya's fireball last year almost write themselves.
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No Stranger To NASCAR
Her value to P&G could be far in excess of the dollars spent. Given their diverse product line, Patrick could have several products on the car over the course of the year, depending on which one the parent company was looking to push at a given time or racetrack. Olay may not work over the course of a full year, but would make a lot of sense for Sonoma and Auto Club. Maybe Nyquil on the car for some of the cooler weather races. The possibilities are endless as are the promotional tie-ins.
And of course, there's Tide. The company has history with NASCAR as the Tide brand sponsored drivers such as Ricky Rudd and Darrell Waltrip. The company left NASCAR in 2006, last appearing on the hood of Travis Kvapil. The company cited rising costs of sponsorship versus limited returns as the reason why they were leaving. Which makes perfect sense. There's a reason why Travis Kvapil is not in a top-tier Cup ride. No disrespect to Travis but he does not have the marketing presence to offset his lack of on-track performance. Patrick may not be much better on the track but her marketing power is matched only by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
So the thought of GoDaddy taking its ball to the World Cup won't be the end of the world for Danica Patrick or for Stewart-Haas Racing. While sponsorship dollars in corporate America are tight, Patrick presents a unique opportunity. She has the ability to attract the kinds of sponsors that other drivers can only dream of- and in doing so, she also can change her own image. That's a win-win proposition for all involved.