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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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