Time For BMW to Embrace Formula Drift?

Racing | January 3rd, 2012 by 15
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BMW has long spent marketing dollars in creative ways. We’ve seen BMW throw money at sailing championships and golf championships – and considering the economic …

BMW has long spent marketing dollars in creative ways. We’ve seen BMW throw money at sailing championships and golf championships – and considering the economic stature of the spectators, we weren’t surprised to see marketing budgets partly devoted to these sports.

BMW took a hiatus from their Hollywood product placement efforts, but they’re now back in the game with the i8 scoring a lead role in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – playing in theaters now. When potential buyers are paying to see your advertisement, you know you’re on to something. Previous Hollywood product placement certainly did no harm for the brand, and the young audience that Hollywood captures represents a key target market to focus on, since these youngsters will be buying the cars and motorcycles of tomorrow.

Time For BMW to Embrace Formula Drift?

BMW has recently formed a relationship with MotoGP, where BMW M has provided all pace cars (well, “Pace Sports Activity Vehicles?”) and BMW has been coined “The Official Car of MotoGP.” Sort of an ironic title… just saying. We’ve caught wind of a rumor that BMW intends to enter MotoGP as a competitor, stepping up from the World Superbike Championship in which they currently compete, but for now they are sponsoring a sport in which they do not compete as a factory or with private entry teams.

After a moment of pause, BMWBLOG had a lightbulb moment. BMW should sponsor Formula Drift. Not only has Formula Drift captured the hearts of spectators around world, it has now grown into an internationally acclaimed world championship. Formula Drift now has the reputability, professionalism and marketing power of more mainstream motorsports; the difference is that while other forms of motorsport are struggling to maintain audiences, professional drifting is exploding in popularity around the world.

The Japanese ultimately got the drifting scene sliding with an underground movement that started with street racers who favored aggressive slip angles. Their stylized form of driving became as much an art form as a sport, and melding creative displays of driving talent with racing while using cars as a ‘paintbrush’ has spun viewer’s imaginations into overdrive. As in any form of motorsport, crashes are part of the spectacle as drivers occasionally push beyond their own limits.

So why should BMW throw their name and sponsorship dollars behind professional drifting? BMW has long embraced tail-out driving techniques, as is regularly highlighted in their own marketing material. A certain commercial demonstrating the 1M’s drifting prowess (seen here) is enough evidence to prove my case. BMW’s ideal 50:50 weight distribution and traditional rear-wheel-drive layout have always played well to the physics of drifting, with straight forward weight transfer and plenty of front end grip.

Time For BMW to Embrace Formula Drift?

BMW is at a cross-roads with their motor racing involvement. After leaving Formula 1, they have invested heavily in the American LeMans Series (ALMS), DTM racing (German Touring Car Championship) and the World Rally Championship (WRC), but none of these series really engage the youth of North America – BMW’s most important market. ALMS comes closest, but I seldom hear of much excitement from local race fans. I am personally interested in the sport, and I thoroughly enjoy watching BMW trounce their competition from Italy, America, Britain and Germany, but at an organic, grass-roots level, there is not much enthusiasm growing around ALMS, particularly with the younger crowd.

Some insight into viewer demographics will help to establish the relevance of professional drifting. Whereas ALMS captures an older, more mature audience with a medium income over $100,000 dollars (more than double that of NASCAR fans), Formula Drift captures a much younger audience a little lighter in the wallet: approximately 20% of fans earn over $100,000, while roughly 70% of fans earn $70,000 or less, the bottom 30% are either low income students or not yet employed. At first, these stats may not seem flattering to the sport – but when you consider that 65% of fans are between the age of 18 and 29, the numbers become more appealing to marketing gurus. Not many under the age of 30 earn over $100,000, but these professionals will go on to earn more in the future – and when they do, premium car companies will be vying for their attention. Why not capture their attention, and loyalty now?

True, Formula drift is still a relatively small sport with approximately 10,000 fans showing up at each of the 7 annual events across America (Formula Drift has expanded to open parallel series around the world, of particular importance is their Pan-Asian series), but last year attendance grew by 11% in the U.S. – a very impressive figure compared to other forms of motorsport. Formula Drift has managed over 1.5 million page hits on their website, and these numbers validate manufacturer involvement.

Time For BMW to Embrace Formula Drift?

Most importantly, professional drifting is consistent with the ethos of the brand: driver involvement and excitement, motorsport, and dare I say it… “joy.” The passion of drift fans is palpable, and the atmosphere at events is one of genuine excitement. Several BMW’s already compete in the series, entered by private racers. Supporting Formula Drift would be a great way to reconnect BMW enthusiasts with the marque which, of late, seems a little oblivious to their fun, sporting heritage.

Why not up the ante and enter a factory BMW drift team? Use the M3 or 1M as the team race car, and put one of the best drifters-for-hire behind the wheel. The marketing exposure would be epic, and since Formula Drift is a relatively cheap form of motorsports to engage in, the return on investment would likely be high.

Time For BMW to Embrace Formula Drift?

[Photos credit: Circuitprodigital.com | Modifiedcars.com | Pittootsiepromomodels.com]

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  • Giannis

    It would definitely be interesting to see a BMW works drift team and i don’t doubt that they could actually be very successful but i somehow don’t see them committing in such a way to the sport. 

    Drifting as a sport is indeed gaining momentum but it’s still very much a niche within a niche. I could see Mini entering the sport but alas they don’t have a RWD car to base their effort on.

    Interesting suggestion though. Could a forward-thinking BMW execuaef tive  green-light such a move?

  • Adam

    As Chris Harris once said: “what’s the most immature question we can ask about the new M5? how far can it drift”

    BMW especially in this economic climate is certaintly taking its options and weighing them carefully and drifting (whether proffessional or not) doesnt seem the best way.  There is also the type of crowd that watch drifting, ususlly 14-22 year olds who after the race attempt the same stunts in their rusty 240SX’s and Civics, not the sort BMW want to associate with.  I worked with a kid who owned a 240 and this is what he told me one night “I’m gonna quit working, quit school so I can go drift” I ask why he replies “cause if your professional you can get a trophy” to this I said “your parents must be really proud of you”

    From that point on, I decided drifting was immature, a waist of money and I would refuse to have any part of it.  Getting your tail out on a track through a corner doesnt count.

    • Gnuman

      Drifting is a lifestyle that has blown up exponentially within the last 10 yrs. It is a competitive sport which involves high powered vehicles, and most importantly, it’s quite entertaining. The actual age of drifting compared to other motorsports, which have existed for decades longer, is quite immature, but the actual sport and its technicality is not. I bet you that if you got in one of those cars while competing, you would gain a more positive outlook and respect for the sport. Motorsports are a kind of sport which demands skill, passion and tons of hard work, involving vehicles and trained drivers; drifting is definitely in this category. Since when should manufacturers limit their involvement in motorsports because of the age of its popular audience? Stop being stuck up and acknowledge the fact that BMW will be honing their skills and one day dominating another type of motorsport. 

  • http://twitter.com/atr_hugo Hugo Becker

    Well – it’s not racing is it? And any competition that has the opportunity for a Bulgarian judge to be purchased outright . . . ;-)

    • Shawn

      Corner entry speed is a factor in awarding points and deciding the winner, but ultimately, style and showmanship is what dominates the sport.  It’s true, in the hard definition of “racing” drifting doesn’t count as there are faster ways to go around the track.  

      That having been said, drifting has always been a wink and a nod away from the brand.  Every M car launch has corporate photos displaying the cars in wild drifts, because this captures the emotion of speed and the spirit of the brand (serious speed with a side of fun).  

      What matters most in this consideration is the business argument.  A form of motorsport exploding in popularity among young (!) buyers is not to be ignored.  As Adam mentioned above, there a undoubtably a bunch of simple minded folk who are unlikely to purchase BMWs, but that’s true of any form of motorsport, and I do not believe they represent the majority in this case.  There is plenty of money being thrown around Formula Drift (and young people like to spend their money, on cars), and the sport is growing quickly.  Sounds like a great marketing opportunity to me – especially consider the very low costs of competition and potential return on investment.  

      BMW is spending big money supporting MotoGP and they don’t even compete in this arena.  Spectators can see their potential car drifting in Formula D.     

  • Guest

    Please don’t.

  • E30M3

    Please not be immature and naive to speak of something you do not know much about. To say that drifting thing is for “young whipper snappers” make you sound like some old man in 1950 talking about Wally Parks in the infancy of the NHRA.  I have 2 decades of motorsports experience and 1 decade of drifting experience as a marketer and what I have learned is simple…  if you don’t consider drifting racing and you consider drifting a hugely popular judged sport like surfing, skateboarding, and freestyle motocross and accept it for that then you will have less heartburn about it.  Is it not awesome to watch an 800hp car sideways, smoking up tires only centimeters from the wall?  And what if that car was a M3?  If every car maker (from Infiniti to Mercedes) uses opposite lock shots in their ads and commercials, can’t you just give a chance?

    • byron h.

      I whole heartedly agree.  The professional drifting community is comprised of passionate and professional young professionals.  It may not be timed but it is an easily understood action motor sport.  Spending a bit of time talking with top tier teams it is quickly apparent how seriously this sport is taken.  Several OEMs have already positioned themselves and their products in the sport.  I would love to see a serious effort from BMW to rival the dominance of top teams like Falken Tire.

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  • Tung

    As a drifter I think it’d be excellent for BMW to join Formula D. It’s just the trade off between reaching out to the youth and alienating the older folks who look down on or haven’t experienced drifting. If not soon, I think the audience demographic will change as the core group continues to age. It’s already matured leaps and bounds in the last five years. Five years from now I can see the audience filled with entry level luxury car buyers. I’m one of them. Audi/benz/Cadillac/BMW won’t be able to ignore it.

    Adam, please don’t judge us off of your experience with one person. Most of us who actually drift, have jobs and don’t care about going professional. Most of us just love drifting for what it is: cheap track time, hanging out with friends, driving on the limit. Track day guys understand.

  • Nick

    Every year I ask Santa for just two things – a Ferrari and factory backing from BMW for our Formula Drift program. If Santa made me choose, honestly I would go with support from BMW.

    These “kids”, driving their Nissans, Hondas and Mazdas – the core of the drift movement today, are going to college and when they graduate and start making some money they are looking to buy something up the vehicular food chain. Of course BMW has been high on the list but other car companies have been working hard to build relationships with young buyers and giving them options farther up the food chain. This is beginning to break this natural progression that was instilled in me when I was at that age.

    Apple has spent millions pushing Apple Computers into schools for decades looking to expose kids to Apple products early on. The computer lab at my daughters’ school today is all Mac. And how has that worked out for Apple? Microsoft has tried to mimic Apple by throwing money at the situation like they have done with so many other things but it is difficult to make up for years of conditioning of our youth. Like it or not they (youth) tend to define what is cool. It just takes them some time to be in a position to influence the market.

    So Santa, I am asking for just one thing next year as I type this on my iPad – please find us a forward looking exec at BMW and let’s go drifting.

    - Nick at GSR Autosport

  • Racefan

    In the states BMW has invested heavily again in Grand Am and ALMS. Having won both titles the past two year they have dominated US road racing.

    The racing in GT this year was incredible and in Grand AM you have over 20 BMW’s on the track between all the classes.

    Germany it’s all about DTM and I am not sure outside of Germany if even Europe cares about DTM.Although I hope they are successful.I  would rather see them compete against audi’s prototype program at Le Mans.

    In any case they could do all of the about plus Formula D with a tenth of the budget they were spending on Formula One !!!!

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