NASCAR CMO & Project Executive Creative Director Break Down 'Always Forward' Film Series
Pete Jung, Chief Marketing Officer, NASCAR + Doug Hanshaw, ECD, 77 Ventures Creative
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On the occasion of NASCAR’s 75th anniversary, NASCAR CMO Pete Jung sat down with Doug Hanshaw, the Executive Creative Director of 77 Ventures Creative, to discuss “Always Forward,” their campaign incorporating a touring 75 Car car as well as three stunning films celebrating the sport’s past, present, and future. The two team leaders from different sides of the campaign have shared their conversation in hopes of illustrating how centering the emotional impact of a brand’s story elevates entertainment value and creates captivating content vehicles for measurably higher performance:
DOUG: We’ve seen NASCAR come a long way in the eight years we’ve been working with this brand, not only in embracing the new technology coming out but also the fan base and the type of people we’re reaching. But, whatever we do, we also realize that we still have hardcore fans who want to see some of the sport they’ve grown up with and love. We want to be sure that we speak the same language as everyone else and that it feels authentic. Thankfully, NASCAR keeps us in check often by saying, “That doesn’t make sense to us, so it’s not going to make sense to them,” and so on. But, I feel like that is the main challenge of working on this brand: finding that perfect balance between creative innovation and remaining faithful to the pre-existing, well-recognized brand elements. I feel like this campaign has done an excellent job of doing that.
PETE: In the time we’ve worked together, there’s been quite a bit of transformation and innovation within the sport and the brand itself. Every year, there has been a significant opportunity or challenge, whether it was an all-new car, new places we’re racing, a new type of track, or drivers that are now at the top of the sport. So, I think this milestone of our 75th anniversary, being on the heels of this transformation, has fortunately led to new audiences and a lot more engagement than we’ve seen in past years with fans and consumers.
DOUG: Something that’s reasonably ingrained in our psyche now is that, at the end of the day, we have a great product, and we need to show it. You’ve got fast cars that are loud and exciting, so let’s make sure we show that stuff. In the creative world, you often try to push boundaries of what you can get away with, but we realized we still needed to show this product and what the sport means. That’s what people tune in to watch.
When we were making this campaign, we knew it had to be fairly simple to understand and wouldn’t need one of us there to explain it. This is especially true because whatever we created had to endure - the collective “Always Forward” campaign has lasted a little over a year and is still going strong.
When we came across this idea of the 75 car, it felt natural for the sport, and the number 75 was obviously significant for NASCAR this year. It’s been fun to see something powerful that everyone could pick up and inject their own voice and personality into. When we started the season off, the car was suddenly in Wall Street, and then for the Coke Zero Sugar 400, they did a virtual reality installation with the car.
PETE: When you and your team pitched it to us, we felt this campaign was authentic and pure to the brand and the sport. We loved the idea of this car taking you to these memorable moments and going on this journey to the past and where we are today with some of our biggest names in racing. Then, with this final creative execution, we venture into what the future will look like. It was genuine, simple, and authentic to the brand, and it hit on so many things that we wanted to express with this milestone anniversary and this moment for the sport.
The 75 Car is very special. We love our cars at NASCAR, and our fans love cars. So, the 75 Car has been one of the top conversation points as the hero of this campaign and the thing that transports people to different moments, and it literally shows up in the NASCAR Experience and in the Fan Zone.
DOUG: We had all of these different versions of it in our mind, and how it could come to life, you know. Was it an amalgamation of different versions of cars in some way? Was it a futuristic car? Was it a regular car with a number on it? We had to pressure test all of the ideas to get to where we finally landed and let the car take on these other roles based on what the creative required.
PETE: We have a very unified, tight team at NASCAR, so we’ve got our specifics of what we’re trying to accomplish out of this moment for the sport, brand, and industry. Doug, you and your team know us, and you know the brand, the sport, the industry, the nuances, and the politics in some cases so that you all can often catch and anticipate things before we do.
DOUG: You’re dead on. Working with you all for this long, we know what we have to watch out for and what we need to consider. A prime example of this is we had to make a conscious effort to incorporate all three OEMs [Original Equipment Manufacturers: Toyota, Ford, and Chevrolet] somehow into [the films], especially with “Anthem,” because all three are huge parts of the sport, and to favor one over the other can start to get a bit tricky. So, by learning these things over many years working with NASCAR, we were able to be more efficient in taking on those considerations before we presented anything.
It was also a great challenge to tackle with our films “Anthem,” “Roads,” and “Zuri.” I think there’s a lot of love for the history of NASCAR. It is a sport driven by nostalgia and love for the drivers of the past. In celebrating the 75 years it’s been around, the past was one of the more accessible eras. For example, there was a list of footage the fans had seen over and over and over again. It’s always the same clips because there weren’t as many cameras as there are today at a race. So, we were able to ideate with “Anthem.” If we were to go back in time and have the resources we do now, what would that look like, and how cool would it be for the fans to see that classic footage from an entirely new vantage point?
With the present in “Roads,” we’ve been fortunate that the drivers carrying the torch for the next generation all come from various backgrounds, so that felt like a natural place for us to explore with our second spot about the present. You have a driver like Daniel Suárez, who came from Monterrey, Mexico, and other drivers who grew up on dirt tracks, drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., who grew up on asphalt, or William Byron, who came from iRacing.
Then, of course, the future and “Zuri.” We love to see where the sport can go, but we didn’t want it to feel out of left field. In the past, we’ve had women drivers such as Danica Patrick, someone that served as an inspiration for the future of NASCAR. We wanted to say that there are opportunities ahead for the next generation of female drivers. Then the questions became what might she look like and where could that go? Now that the barriers to entry have come down for drivers entering the sport, we wanted to explore how the sport might feel 10, 20, or 30 years down the road.
PETE: As a high-level brand piece, our creative goals for the campaign and the work that we were going to do were all sitting on top of promoting events, helping to sell tickets, and hyping up tune in.
Going into it, we had a few of our usual social listening tools and analytics to capture the sentiment around that conversation. We wanted to exceed many of our metrics regarding favorable sentiment, and “Always Forward” blew it out of the water, especially with “Anthem.”
Another way we measure the success of our campaigns is we have a net community of 15,000 fans called the NASCAR Fan Council. So, we tested it with them, and again, that exceeded our norms pretty significantly.
The third way we test creative executions is with a partner of ours called Dumbstruck. What they do is they have cameras watching consumers view the creative, and based on their expressions and the movement of their eyes, how their pupils are dilating. You can see where people are looking at every frame of the creative, so we could see them dialed into the 75 on the side of the car. We could see their emotions escalate and all of that. It was crazy-interesting to use that technical analysis into the brain to validate the feelings we hoped to invoke with this campaign.
So, based on those three ways we’ve evaluated the campaign, I’d say we hit it out of the park. I feel like we’ve hit the jackpot here in getting to tell the story about NASCAR. With this campaign milestone, the timing couldn’t be better. You can see that within the creative execution of “Zuri” - it’s real and not that far-fetched. We’ve got these developmental programs not only in the US but in Brazil, Mexico, and Europe, and that’s bringing in more diversity and more women through not only drivers but pit crews and all facets of the NASCAR teams.
DOUG: NASCAR continues to be an entertaining account to work on. It’s been a pleasure to ingrain myself with the sport, not only for the job, but I follow all the storylines now. I can’t help it! It’s so interesting to see what’s going on and what the new thing will be. Is someone going to get into a fight after a race? Why did he get in the fight? I gotta figure it out! You can dig into so many nuances, but ultimately, it’s the emotional impact of what it is for the fans and what the sport means to them. We always try to capture in some way that feeling we got the first time we went to our first race; that feeling of “damn, that’s impressive, that’s intense.” How do we convey this feeling that we’re feeling in person through all these different mediums? With all of us at 77 Ventures Creative and your team at NASCAR, a really lovely relationship has been built between us that’s developed over the years that I think just gets stronger.