M&M’s Mars has been one of NASCAR’s few full-time sponsors, adorning the car of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, usually driven by Kyle Busch. The sponsor, however, has not only succeeded on the track, but has become one of the sport’s newest teaching sponsors, in more ways than one.
[media-credit name=”Photo Credit: Adam Sheikh” align=”alignright” width=”226″][/media-credit]One of the most important ways that M&M’s Mars has been educating through racing is by participating in the NASCAR Kinetics program. Recently, NASCAR expanded this successful program, providing college students with real-world marketing challenges in the sport, from 12 to 20 schools this semester.
The NASCAR Kinetics program began in 2009 with just four schools participating. But over the past few years, the program has expanded to become NASCAR’s biggest college experience.
“NASCAR Kinetics is a dynamic initiative that merges educational and experiential tasks,” Steve Phelps, NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, said. “We anticipate students will leverage the marketing techniques and lessons in teamwork they learn through the program to successfully position themselves in an increasingly competitive motorsports industry.”
This year, the program is concentrating on three case studies, including evaluating social media strategies for Michael Waltrip Racing and coming up with sponsorship activation ideas for Dodge. The third case scenario is working with M&M’s Mars to celebrate the colorfulness of the M&M’s characters as the sport’s official chocolate.
The students have to host one of three viewing parties highlighting the M&M’s brand. Their challenge is to “Make Race Day More Fun” through the use of the candy, as well as attracting casual and avid NASCAR fans.
“M&M’s has been involved with the NASCAR Kinetics program since spring 2009 and has been the sponsor of the viewing party case study since spring 2010,” Lauren Nodzak, PR Manager of Mars Chocolate North America, said. “We originally got involved after the Winston-Salem State University team reached out to us on the M&M’s Racing Facebook page and invited us to cover their party.”
“After being exposed to the program at that level, we decided to become a partner and make the viewing party case study sponsored by M&M’s.”
Nodzak affirms that M&M’s candy is the “perfect fit” as a snack for NASCAR fans coming together to enjoy the race. “The idea of getting your friends together to watch a NASCAR race while enjoying plenty of M&M’s is a key component,” Nodzak said.” Racing fit perfectly within the brand as we launched an overall brand campaign, ‘M&M’s Makes Race Day More Fun.’
Nodzak said that the students have been most creative in marketing the M&M’s brand through the viewing parties, from sharing recipes including the brightly-colored candy to having M&M’s race car driver Kyle Busch look-a-like contests.
“The students have taken some very creative approaches to incorporating M&M’s into their parties,” Nodzak said. “Just as exciting is how the students have taken fun to the next level, from NASCAR simulators to marching bands at these events.”
“Working with college students through the NASCAR Kinetics program has given us an additional channel to leverage our NASCAR sponsorship,” Nodzak continued. “NASCAR Kinetics brings a new level of engagement and brand advocates into the M&M’s Racing family.”
Unfortunately, M&M’s Mars has had to involve themselves in another educational endeavor in addition to the NASCAR Kinetics program. The sponsor has had to teach its star driver Kyle Busch a lesson after an on-track incident with Ron Hornaday in the Truck race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Because of the incident, Busch was not only penalized by NASCAR by being forced to sit out the Nationwide and Cup races last weekend, but was also forced to forgo his M&M’s sponsor being on his No. 18 car for the last two races of the season. Mars, Inc. did, however, affirm their sponsorship of Busch for the 2012 season, hopefully after their driver has had time to reflect on lessons learned.
“As a proud member of the racing community, Mars and M&M’s brand strong support the partnership we have with Joe Gibbs Racing and are committed to NASCAR,” Debra Sandler, Chief Consumer Officer of Mars Chocolate North America, said. “Yet Kyle’s recent actions are unacceptable and do not reflect the values of Mars.”
“While we do not condone Kyle’s recent actions, we do believe that he has shown remorse and has expressed a desire to change,” Sandler continued. “We believe our decision will have a positive impact on Kyle and will help him return next season ready to win.”
“There’s remorse from my side and to be apologetic to the M&M’s brand and all the folks that put their heart and soul into this NASCAR program for years,” Busch said. “There is an opportunity for me to become a better person, to grow, to learn from this and I’m looking forward to those days.”
“Kyle and all of us are committed to learn from this so that we never have to go through this again,” Joe Gibbs, team owner, said simply.
From the college students participating in the NASCAR Kinetics program to the NASCAR driver sporting the M&M’s brand colors, there is no doubt that Mars, Inc. has become one of the sport’s most important educators as well as sponsors.
And hopefully, all involved under the tutelage of the colorful candy company, will learn their lessons well.