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F1 sponsorship: a sponsor's view

  • Story Highlights
  • Formula 1 seen as a young and dynamic sponsorship opportunity
  • Global reach of the sport is seen as an advantage
  • Corporate hospitality helps Johnnie Walker get closer to its customers
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by James Snodgrass for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- In 1968 the Lotus Formula 1 team broke new ground. Rather than racing in a livery related to national flags or emblems, the team took to the circuit with cars in the color-scheme -- and wearing the logo of -- Imperial Tobacco's Gold Leaf brand.

Lewis Hamilton's helmet bears the "Striding Man", symbol of Johnnie Walker for nearly 100 years

Since then Formula 1 and sponsorship have walked hand-in-hand, sponsorship money being a significant -- and in many case major -- source of revenue. But what do sponsors get out of Formula 1?

Johnnie Walker, a Scotch whisky brand of Diageo, is in its third season of sponsoring the McLaren Mercedes team. Ben Anderson is Johnnie Walker's Global Brand Director: "Specifically for us we're looking at doing two things. At a brand level we're trying continually to develop the equity in our brand image. And that's by getting involved with international, stylish events like Formula 1.

"And secondly it's a fantastic vehicle for us to get our responsible drinking message across. When we went into Formula 1 it was on those two bases."

Johnnie Walker is the world's best-selling Scotch whisky (and the world's second-best selling whisky after the Irish whiskey, Jameson). Sold in 180 countries and consumed at a rate of 154 glasses per second (or five bottles per second; nearly 160 million bottles per annum), it is a truly global proposition.

"You can imagine that when we wanted to get into a sponsorship property we needed something that gave us the global scale and global reach and Formula 1 was really the only possible sporting event that we could get this reach," continues Anderson "it's a huge annual event."

With such a global presence, Johnnie Walker doesn't need Formula 1 to grab brand awareness. Rather it piggybacks on Formula 1's appeal -- and the brand appeal of McLaren Mercedes in particular -- to position itself as a youthful and dynamic proposition.

"In terms of which team you go for we analyzed the teams and there was really only one potentially for us to get involved with and that was McLaren," says Anderson, "because we share so many similar characteristics. Both our teams are successful. Since they entered Formula 1, 41 years ago, no team has won more races than McLaren.

"We're the best and biggest global Scotch player, we've won more awards than any other Scotch whisky. So there's a similarity there. Both brands are innovative. That fit of values -- these brands have a kind of status -- Mercedes, McLaren, Johnnie Walker."

But it's not just about presenting the brand. Formula 1 offers Johnnie Walker a chance to entertain its clients in a unique way.

"Ron Dennis says that Formula 1 is one of the last gladiatorial sports -- like chariot racing," says Anderson, "it's exciting, it's something you can get close to and experience in a really authentic way. And we found that it's a great asset to our corporate entertaining calendar.

"We tend to take customers from specific markets to specific races, both in seeing what the brand looks like at its best in a contemporary, fashionable, international setting such as Formula 1 races are. Be they in Monaco, Sao Paolo or Shanghai, having deeper relationships with our customers is one of the benefits we get out of it."

Formula 1 isn't Johnnie Walker's only sporting sponsorship. It also sponsors golf -- a sport that --Tiger Woods aside -- is rarely associated with youth and dynamism. But while its perception in Europe is one of "a walk in the country ruined", in the Asia-Pacific market it has the associated glamour and spirit of Formula 1. The Johnnie Walker classic has run in Asia for 17 years now and Johnnie Walker also sponsors the Championship at Gleneagles in Scotland (Gleneagles is also a Diageo property).

Anderson relates a piece of Gleneagles trivia: its golf course was designed by a descendant of Johnnie Walker.

Key to the brand message that Johnnie Walker -- and Diageo -- is trying to get across is responsible drinking. Diageo runs worldwide campaigns on this message, including the "Drink Aware" campaign in the UK and "Think B4U Drink" campaign in Australia. But aren't motor sports and drink strange bedfellows?

"Responsible drinking and Formula 1: a lot of people say, can you explain that to me for a second?" says Anderson, "I'm always delighted to answer that particular question because responsible drinking is a critical part of Diageo's message."

The message has been reinforced by having formula McLaren world champion, Mika Hakkinen, work as a taxi driver at various Grands Prix.

"Recently I happened to be in Monaco with [Hakkinen]. 'Why are you driving a taxi promoting responsible drinking?' people ask. The very fact that you're putting that question into people's minds is unbelievably powerful." And then when you explain that a Formula 1 driver is a great athlete who is in control, but that you cannot be in control if you're drinking and driving. It's a powerful message that really resonates with consumers.

"If governments do responsible drinking messages, it's probably ignored to be honest, if companies do it, it's less impactful. But Mika is still a hero amongst many young people it really does resonate with them and it changes their behavior and their attitude to something which is critical to Johnnie Walker, to Diageo and to me." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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