McLaren: Marketing like no other?
Often seen praising its #FansLikeNoOther, but does McLaren have the branding to match?
In a sport where fans are more loyal to drivers, F1 is in direct contrast to sports like football or basketball where the majority of fans tend to follow a specific team. Aston Martin inherited the Sebastian Vettel fan base, many Mexican fans followed Sergio Perez to the Red Bull side and if Lewis Hamilton were to leave Mercedes, it’s hard to imagine them having the same fan base. This is where teams like Ferrari and McLaren have done exceedingly well in creating long term, loyal fans who support regardless of the driver line up. Whilst McLaren is one of the oldest teams on the grid, longevity is not guaranteed and so the willingness to adapt and better serve fans and partners has helped to secure its future.
This week McLaren extended their relationship with CNBC and last week a couple of impressive collaborations emerged with established luxury clothing brand, Rhude, and global gaming developer, Garena. They‘ve even been able to bring back some big names like Gulf to F1. These may seem like notable achievements in the partnerships space, but when looking at the teams marketing in general, McLaren is perhaps the most innovative player in Formula 1. The arrival of marketing and sponsorship guru, Zak Brown, as CEO has undoubtedly been pivotal in rebuilding and revitalising McLaren’s brand image whilst leveraging the heritage and prestige that comes with the name.
Whilst technical ability and know-how is what drives results, marketing and sponsorship is key to funding it. Having enough money available to bankroll research and development is how teams make it to the top and stay there and McLaren is very much on that journey. After recovering from a slump in performance in recent years, the team has bounced back going from strength to strength and it’s marketing activities have out-paced most teams on the grid. Here’s a dive into how McLaren has achieved this.
Whilst McLaren’s popularity has stayed relatively high, its driver line ups have definitely contributed. Housing big names such as Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, the team has consistently boasted some of the biggest characters on the grid with a blend of on-track results and off-track marketability attracting sponsors and press. Most recently, Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz’ relationship - more lovingly known as Carlando - has been a big draw for fans with the team’s digital channels providing a closer look into the pair’s interactions behind the scenes. Not an easy fete to replicate as it was clear that the two had natural chemistry but most will be hoping that there’s more of the same to come with Daniel Ricciardo.
IMAGE CREDITS: Formula 1
McLaren has struck marketing gold with the fan favourite duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris and so this trend is likely to continue with brands assumingly eager to have the popular pair as ambassadors. The recent collaboration with Rhude will have probably been aided by Ricciardo’s genuine appreciation for the brand as he’s been photographed in the clothing line multiple times along with a reputation for enjoying fashion and more specifically streetwear. On the other side of the garage, Lando has been notorious for his streaming and gaming content often appealing to a younger demographic and so again provides opportunities for brands looking to appeal to this audience. By securing drivers who can deliver the race performance along with being popular with fans, partnered with McLaren’s willingness to produce unique and forward thinking content, it provides more of a pull for potential sponsors.
Always looking for ways to engage its fans, McLaren has been innovative in the way in which it communicates with its supporters. They are the only team on the grid to have their own dedicated app which allows users to keep up to date with news, and a program called McLaren Plus which offers discounts, competitions and member-first access to events and product launches. Adding a tier of exclusivity, fans can also aim for Papaya memberships which in their own words, ”can not be bought, but can be earned”, which ensures that they truly are for the best fans, not just the wealthiest.
Adding to its fan engagement portfolio, McLaren announced a new partnership with Iqoniq in the summer of 2020 which you may have noticed with the addition of the Iqoniq logo on the team’s helmets. Iqoniq is striving to be the ultimate fan engagement app when it launches later this year and will host many of the largest names in sport, with both Williams and McLaren signing up from the F1 world. The app will mirror some of the ideas in place at McLaren but on a greater scale with news, product drops, mid-event sales, competitions and athlete interaction all in the pipeline. Despite having one of the more developed engagement programs internally, this partnership evidences McLaren’s continued commitment to providing an unparalleled experience for its fans and increased level of access to a sport which has previously been shrouded in exclusivity.
Zak Brown revealed in the ‘Grand Prix Driver’ Amazon Prime docuseries that sponsorship accounts for around half of a teams budget, so is vital in giving teams adequate funding to build truly competitive cars. This is evident with teams like Haas and Williams struggling to attract sponsors and building on already existent financial struggles. McLaren has avoided this and been able to attract a wealth of sponsors over the past few years and boasts one of the largest rosters of commercial partners in the paddock.
Sponsorship has evolved past the point of just logos being slapped on liveries and overalls and now involves more alignment and interaction between the team and its partner. The extension with CNBC signals success in their current partnership which has helped to expose McLaren to the US market and CNBC to the global one, with CNBC providing McLaren with a platform for storytelling. Another new sponsor is Unilever who whilst only being rumoured to be parting with around £1m a year, will provide credibility to the brand for attracting large sponsors and also benefit by utilising McLaren’s technical know how to drive efficiencies. This is something the team achieved previously by using their engineering talent to help GlaxoSmithKline produce almost 7 million additional tubes of toothpaste per year.
As mentioned earlier, McLaren has collaborated with luxury streetwear brand Rhude on an exclusive collection which will be released over the course of the season. With the two brands being on the luxury end of their respective industries, they are aligned in target customer segments. With Rhude being a prominent name in the fashion world and having a cult following, the partnership will help to grow McLaren’s appeal amongst new target groups with Rhude fans mainly making up younger demographics in key markets such as the US.
IMAGE CREDITS: McLaren
Moreover, it will help to build a ‘cool’ image for the team with the clothing brand fluorishing at the moment. With Daniel Ricciardo also having an avid interest in fashion - with his own clothing line and a party shirt making it into his top 10 must haves - and being photographed in Rhude many times previously, this will help to make the partnership more authentic and engaging with Daniel being a genuine fan. Clothing collaborations have started to pop up more frequently recently with F1 also collaborating with Bape and Anti Social Social Club and so evidently the streetwear world is seeing synergies in F1, branding and target demographic.
Likewise, partnering with Garena, a gaming developer, will play into Lando Norris’ forte with the young driver being a fan of streaming and gaming with his own team. The collab will see the team make an in-game appearance which will again grant the team exposure to a new host of users. Lando is also a personality in his own right which brings a larger fan base to the team and in theory makes it easier to attract sponsors who may be aiming for that target demographic.
The team have utilised their platforms to produce branded content where possible, whether its a Richard Mille branded map of the race start time, a Christmas themed video featuring Huski Chocolate, or a DarkTrace video highlighting how the team are protected. These may seem like relatively small things, and they are, but they all add value to the relationship between the team and sponsor and increase the chance of an extension and of attracting more happy sponsors.
The team have utilised their platforms to produce branded content where possible, whether its a Richard Mille branded map of the race start time, a Christmas themed video featuring Huski Chocolate, or a DarkTrace video highlighting how the team are protected. These may seem like relatively small things, and they are, but they all add value to the relationship between the team and sponsor and increase the chance of an extension and of attracting more happy sponsors. Producing funny videos are more likely to be viewed and shared and increase the likelihood of consumers remembering Huski Chocolate, and informative videos like the DarkTrace one will appeal to tech heads and potential business customers. Especially so when done to the high level of production and finishing that McLaren does.
McLaren’s partnership with Mind has been nothing short of inspiring. The team has raised £285,000 for the mental health charity and it has been the most publicised charity partnership across all of the teams. However, it’s far from just a cash donation. The team has produced content showcasing discussions around mental health amongst team members, Lando has been vocal about the importance of the topic and both drivers created handcrafted (and delicately drawn) helmets which were auctioned off.
The result is a win for all parties. Mind benefit firstly from the cash, and secondly the awareness raised by such a huge sporting name. The awareness leads to a boost in the sharing of an important message around mental health, which is able to reach some of the groups who often stay quieter about mental health issues with F1 still having a majority of male viewers. As an added bonus, further potential donations are gathered from those reached and moved by the campaign. McLaren is able to do some good and help the charity, spread an important message amongst their fans including key groups e.g. men or young adults, and also benefit from the positive publicity.
The team also worked with Children in Need and had Pudsy Bear make an appearance at the Turkish GP and have tried to be helpful during the pandemic. In another community-minded moment, McLaren produced a ‘Substitute Teacher’ series for its online channels during the pandemic to help teach concepts to students who had just been sent home by the government. Again, another great example of being useful, utilising its specialist knowledge, engaging younger fans/families and increasing its reputation amongst fans and sponsors.
McLaren raced to 3rd in 2020 in the Constructors’ Championship, up from 4th in 2019, 6th in 2018 and 9th in 2017. On Instagram however, it ranks 1st. McLaren boasts 6.5m Instagram followers edging out Mercedes with 6.2m, Scuderia Ferrari with 5.8m and Red Bull Racing with 4.9m even though the latter three teams have enjoyed significantly more on-track success in recent years.
The tables turn on Twitter and Facebook with the top 3 sports returning to the usual candidates but the engagement remains generally in McLaren’s favour with its unique ideas often going viral. Having a large viewership and following is almost redundant if the content isn’t entertaining or effective. McLaren’s Twitter account has around 2.2m followers, ranking behind Red Bull (2.7m), Ferrari (2.8m) and Mercedes (2.9m) but it’s produced some impressive stats.
One of note would be the #AdiosCarlos message which racked up almost 90k likes and over 18k retweets. The only tweets which have compared from other teams this year have understandably been those around driver announcements such as #HolaCheco for Red Bull which had been the target of an endless amount of speculation throughout the season, and Vettel’s announcement at Aston Martin (then Racing Point.)
McLaren has always strived to produce new and original content for motor racing fans and petrol heads alike. They’ve pioneered ideas such as the ‘Tooned’ series which to this day is still some of it’s most viewed content with 2 of the top 3 most popular videos being from the animated series. The ‘Unboxed’ series giving viewers an exclusive view behind each Grand Prix has garnered a loyal following and is far in front of its competitors with most terms only having occasional behind-the-scenes videos, but none which match the quality of production.
Similarly to social media, McLaren has the 4th largest following but their engagement on YouTube is high. This was evidenced by the #NoStringsAttached walk down memory lane video which fetched a huge 126k likes with McLaren’s 500k subscriber list. The only videos surpassing this from the paddock are two from Red Bull with its 800k following. The main competition was a USA Road Trip episode containing both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo racking up 12m views (in comparison to 1.5m for McLaren’s) and 160k likes, highlighting the considerably greater engagement rate for McLaren when comparing the two videos.
MORE TO COME
So there’s a small (well, long to read) summary of McLaren’s marketing movements in recent years. With how much all of the teams are now focusing on improving their digital footprints and fan offerings, there’ll defeinitely be more to come and perhaps even more crossovers with their American counterparts in IndyCar or eSports. The team has done incredibly well to soften its brand mage from the more ‘serious’ one it had a decade ago, to a slightly softer, but still very competitive, fan focused brand. By commercially leveraging its history, success and transformation, McLaren have been able to generate a great deal of income through sponsorship which should help to put them back in a title challenging seat and they are already showing so many signs of being on the path back there.
However the most important question here is, do you know anyone lucky enough to be a Papaya member?