When the pandemic forced Nascar to cancel its racing events in March, the association’s marketing team had to figure out an alternative way to ensure fans would still spend (now quarantined) Sundays with the brand, as they normally would via the track or TV.
While racing was suspended between March 13 and May 17, Nascar developed its first eNascar iRacing Pro Invitational Series, which featured its stars virtually racing from home at digital versions of venues like Homestead-Miami Speedway and North Wilkesboro Speedway.
The races were held during the same weekly Sunday TV window with the same stars, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., William Byron and Chase Briscoe. But the challenge for Nascar was convincing its audience to tune into unfamiliar territory.
The stock car racing company partnered with customer engagement platform Braze to execute a push notification campaign that featured images and animated GIFs of star racers, with the goal of converting live racing fans to virtual racing fans.
Pat DeCola, manager of digital editorial at Nascar, said the digital campaign was built out of necessity to prove to its fanbase that they could still enjoy and wager on live races broadcast on its TV and mobile app, albeit virtually and at home.
“The Nascar fan skews older and not necessarily that technologically [savvy],” DeCola said. “We knew we had a challenge to get the messaging out there: ‘This is going to be the way things are for a while, so we encourage you to tune in and give it a shot.’”
With the campaign, DeCola said Nascar treated the series as a real competition, not only alerting guests to virtual races but also content developed around them such as previews, analysis, video highlights and full race replays. The brand also used push messaging to give its fans updates on when IRL racing would return, and to send messaging from its president, Steve Phelps, thanking fans for their support and understanding.
The push notification campaign ended up driving a 40% conversion rate, as well as an Android open rate of 9% and an iOS open rate of 4%, which DeCola said exceeded expectations for Nascar. The iRacing series also became one of the most-watched televised esports programs in history.
“We decided to be aggressive in reaching out to fans to make sure Nascar was still something they were interested in, even though, technically, there was no Nascar at the time,” he said. “Making their pockets vibrate consistently with a mix of content was the right strategy. Looking forward to the future, by [highlighting] on-track racing mixed with eNascar kept everybody’s appetite whet.”
DeCola said his team had considered whether the push campaign was even appropriate to execute during the first peak of the pandemic, but that ultimately, Nascar viewed the engagement strategy as right place, right time marketing.
“I think it was refreshing for people to have normal Sundays where they could forget about things for a little while and focus on racing,” he said. “We also learned that we don’t need to worry about turning people away by hitting them over the head with Nascar—whether that’s our standard content or content they’re not used to.”