It’s Saturday afternoon around Bristol Motor Speedway, and Chase Elliott is outside his RV, graciously answering a hodge-podge of questions from a few reporters ahead of that night’s race.
Sporting jeans, sneakers and Kelley Blue Book-emblazoned golf shirt and hat, NASCAR’s young and perhaps brightest star fields inquiries about the famed short track, his Atlanta Braves and, yes, how he shops for a car.
“Obviously, KBB,” he said of the latter, generating some laughs. “I mean, in all honesty, not just because I’m wearing their shirt, but it is a great place to go and look, and see what a car’s worth. (And) if you’re selling, what you should price it at.
“Obviously, that’s a great resource. But honestly, I haven’t been in the market for many cars. I have a couple,” Elliott said. “And I actually have gone through KBB and looked at some of the prices and where things should be. I think that’s a great place to start and figure out what you want, and how bad you want it.”
Elliott, whose No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro’s primary sponsor for that August race in Bristol was Kelley Blue Book, is among several sports figures representing Cox Automotive brands KBB and Autotrader.
You may have seen the Autotrader logo during NBA coverage or SEC football on TV, but you have likely also seen Cox Automotive represented by professional athletes themselves.
That includes Elliott's NASCAR peers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano on the Autotrader side of the business — Elliott races on the Hendrick Motorsports team; Logano and Keselowski race for Team Penske — as well as basketball legend Dominique Wilkins, who was partnering with Autotrader during the NBA All-Star Weekend this past February to help to promote its new site.
“It’s been our pleasure to work with them because they’ve understood immediately what we’ve been trying to get across,” be it an overall branding message or marketing a specific product, said Greta Crowley, the vice president of marketing for the group that includes Autotrader, KBB and Dealer.com
And that’s not by accident.
‘We want somebody who’s approachable’
Asked in a phone interview this summer how Cox Automotive goes about about looking for brand spokespeople, Crowley said that with NASCAR, for example, “we leaned heavily on Hendrick and Penske, and we had an honest conversation and said, ‘Here’s what our brands stand for.
“‘And we want a partner who’s authentic and wants to be a partner. We want somebody’s who’s approachable.’ And same for the NBA,” Crowley said, noting how Cox Automotive shared their marketing/audience with the league and asked for recommendations on players.
Cox Automotive also goes through an internal vetting process, including the background of the spokesperson and whether or not he or she would resonate with the audience the company is targeting.
Sports fans also ‘passionate’ about brands
Whether it’s the branding on a stock-car or a marketing presence on TNT's NBA coverage, Cox Automotive has found sports to be a natural fit for marketing, including — but not limited to — the television medium.
From an overall marketing perspective, “we know that sports is still one of the only channels that people are watching live,” Crowley said.
“They’re getting with their friends, they’re talking about it throughout the day and all of the weekend,” she said. “It’s something that we know that people are still really passionate about and that they are passionate about the brands that also support their favorite sports.”
Crowley, whose past experience includes working on the NASCAR support team at an agency associated with Home Depot, said this passion fans have for their drivers’ sponsors “was one of the most eye-opening things for me with NASCAR.”
And with Cox Automotive’s involvement in NASCAR sponsorship, what’s stood out has been “how much the fans love any of the brands that support (the drivers),” Crowley said.
What’s more, fans have even reached out to Autotrader and KBB on social media, requesting hero cards or simply sending happy birthday wishes to their favorite driver.
“That’s been a huge reason for us to get in front of any of these sports fans. And also each of the different sports offers a different audience and diversity, which we can’t always reach with a standard television buy or a search ad,” Crowley said. “So, it gives us some flexibility with our dollars.”
Not only is brand association more intertwined with NASCAR than most other sports, Crowley has found that fan access to drivers is much more prevalent, through things like the hot pass that allows spectators to watch near the pits.
Different purposes within marketing
“We know that with a lot of these sponsorships, depending on how you can structure them, it is all about brand awareness … how do you get that logo out, how do you get your brand mentioned so many different times? There’s a few layers below that we’re constantly looking at too, and saying, ‘how do we slide in a product messaging?’” Crowley said.
For instance, Autotrader had been working with NASCAR drivers about specific messaging on the Accelerate product for next year, helping them to weave it in naturally during conversation with fans.
“With Dominque, we had very specific messaging with touting the all-new Autotrader and some of the enhancements there,” Crowley said, referring to the campaign with Wilkins earlier this year.
“We knew that we needed somebody who was not only familiar with the brand but had experienced it” and Wilkins was a great fit, having bought multiple vehicles via Autotrader, she said. And it’s a “bonus” when they’re able work with someone like Wilkins who was already using their product, Crowley said.
Going back to Chase Elliott, what he might count as a bonus is that the owner of his team, Rick Hendrick, is the founder and chairman of the Hendrick Automotive Group of dealerships.
That connection can also make car-shopping easy.
As far as his ride away from the track, Elliott started off with a black Chevrolet Silverado at age 16 and now drives a Tahoe. He calls himself “a Chevy guy” as part of the Hendrick team.
“And the boss has a lot of different dealerships,” he said, referring to Rick Hendrick. “It’s kind of funny. His race team’s obviously Chevrolet, but he owns a bunch of different car dealerships, from across the board. I think pretty much everything but Ford, I feel like.
“Having that connection with him, and if you are interested in a car, I don’t really look any further than him,” Elliott said. “Because if I were to go buy a car somewhere else, I think I’d get in trouble.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the debut story in Auto Remarketing's “DRIVING FORCE: The Business Intersection of Sports & Automotive” series, which will discuss the car industry's involvement in sports business — be it through marketing partnerships, ownership stakes, working as sister companies under the same corporate umbrella or other business ventures.
Got an idea for this series? Send it to senior editor Joe Overby at email@example.com.