Earlier this year Yard-Man became an associate sponsor of Kevin Harvick’s Busch Series team, which has been known to be loyal to brands associated with the stock-car racking world. A February-to-September online and Wal-Mart sweepstakes for a chance to win a limited-edition Yard-Man tractor and have Harvick mow the lawn. Yard-Man had expected about 100,000 entries, MTD’s sales and marketing manager, Tim Coughlin, said at last week’s Street & Smith Sports Group’s Motorsports Marketing Forum. So how many entries did it receive? More than 800,000. Those names were added to MTD’s marketing database for use in future promotions. The Michigan woman who won the sweepstakes was so worried about the media attention of Harvick’s coming to mow her lawn that she donated the tractor and Harvick’s services to her town, which created additional public relations opportunities. Press from Chicago to Detroit came out for the lawn-mowing event, adding to Yard-Man’s media impressions.
The sponsorship deal included a tour of a “lawn mower simulator” (tractors without blades that fans can race) that stopped at Wal-Mart stores and NASCAR racetracks. Wal-Mart employees enjoyed the simulator even more than the consumers, Coughlin said: “Bringing something fun to the stores, we felt we could be a brand the employees could rally around.” And that encouraged Wal-Mart employees to sell Yard-Man products. In a year that saw the lawn equipment industry down 2%, Wal-Mart’s lawn equipment sales were up 15%, and Yard-Man sales jumped 12%.
And the partnership also taught MTD and Coughlin a few useful lessons:
- A company’s employees may frown upon what they view as a frivolous investment (the undisclosed cost of NASCAR team sponsorship) especially in an era when cost-cutting and downsizing are the norm. So be sure to sell it to them as much as to consumers. Employees “want to feel good about the company and that the money is being spent wisely,” Coughlin said. “We wanted to show them we profited from the relationship.”
- When you don’t have a lot of money to spend on sponsorship activation, keep it simple and unique. That’s how the lawn mower simulator came to play. MTD did not disclose figures, but Coughlin said its activation-to-sponsorship rights ration was 2:1. “The U.S. Army has a simple concept,” Coughlin said, referring to its trackside activation. “Fans go to their booth and do pull-ups and push-ups, challenging their family and friends. And it’s one of the most popular race-day displays.”
- A little bartering can go a long way to attract drivers to your tour. Coughlin says drivers from Harvick’s team made at-track appearances at the tour and were given their own tractor as compensation.