How Coca-Cola celebrated the 25-year legacy of its NASCAR racing family

How Coca-Cola celebrated the 25-year legacy of its NASCAR racing family

Coca-Cola’s relationship with NASCAR dates back to the 1970s, when it began sponsoring Hall of Famer Bobby Allison and various races. The soda brand has maintained naming rights to the World 600 race since 1985, and formalized its relationship with the association in 1998, when it became the official soft drink of NASCAR.

That year also saw the launch of the Coca-Cola Racing Family, a roster of top drivers sponsored by the brand that has included everyone from Dale Earnhardt Sr. to Danica Patrick. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the racing family, Coke reunited a handful of veterans for a “Legends” content series that would give the brand an opportunity to differentiate its social content from its traditional marketing pathways on broadcast and in retail.

“When we thought about what’s the best way to do this, it was simple,” said Al Rondon, senior marketing manager of sports and entertainment at Coca-Cola. “Put a mic in front of them, bring them together and let them tell their story.” 

The result is a conversational content series that features Kyle Petty, Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte and focuses on their legacies, their relationships with Coca-Cola and more light-hearted topics, like the number one question they receive: “What do you do when you gotta pee in the race car?”

So far, the six-episode series (the final episode premieres today) has garnered more than 15 million views and an engagement rate of roughly 12%, outpacing an industry benchmark of three to five percent, according to Amy Creech, vice president of 160over90. The creative agency has been a long-running part of the Coke-NASCAR partnership — a relationship Creech jokes is longer than some marriages, a factor that has contributed to the program’s success.

“Honestly, we see this more as a family amongst ourselves. I know that sounds a little corny, but it elevates the work and makes it better because there’s a high level of trust and partnership that we’ve built over a great amount of time,” she said.

Celebrating legacy through nostalgia

The partnership is a unique one in sports marketing. While major brands have looked to latch on to the popularity of leagues like the NFL and NBA and their biggest stars, Coca-Cola’s enduring work with NASCAR — the 25th anniversary of the racing family coincides with NASCAR’s 75th anniversary — helped to bring attention to the racing association. 

“While we would never say that, it was interesting, because in the content series, you hear [the drivers] say, ‘When Coke came on board, the things that they were doing, helped legitimize the sport and bring it to a new level,'” Rondon said.

To celebrate that legacy, Coke and 160over90 keyed in on legendary drivers — some of which were part of the first racing family back in 1998 — who have enduring popularity and relevancy not just with NASCAR fans but with the brand’s current generation of drivers. The brand has utilized the legends as part of internal and external experiential activations, like having them serve as grand marshals for the Coca-Cola 600 or making appearances at bottling plants.

The content series began as part of a weekly conversation between brand and agency and developed from there. The drivers signed on almost immediately, and then gathered as the agency captured video, hours of raw content that were edited down into minute-long segments built for social media, where the clips have been well received.

“We received so much positive commenting on our social channels about bringing these original family members back,” Creech said. “We all really underestimated how people really do crave nostalgia, and how it’s so comforting to remember the past.”

Coke is no stranger to leaning into nostalgia, especially for and around its iconic brand, and the “Legends” content series comes as marketers writ large — from McDonald’s to the Gap — have embraced nostalgia to engage with consumers who have faced a steady stream of bad news and crises over the last few years. For the content series in particular, nostalgia takes on an even deeper meaning in a sport where family legacies still matter: the year’s most popular driver, Chase Elliott, is the son of Bill Elliott, one of the original members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.

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