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Sports Business

Danica Patrick ad is just blowing smoke

July 12, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

I’ve never been a huge fan of Danica Patrick’s marketing campaigns or personal brand management. From her partnership with GoDaddy to her spread in FHM, I think Patrick has made missteps from a business standpoint she may never completely realize or ever get over.

Sure, she’s arguably the most high-profile and popular IndyCar Series driver, but by casting a wider net, one that was a bit less revealing in some ways and more revealing in others, she could have done much better. For every fan she’s attracted by laying on a car in a tiny two-piece, she’s probably chased two away who didn’t think she was the type of role model they wanted for their kids—or maybe for themselves.

But Patrick’s latest lapse has nothing to do with what she’s wearing and everything to do with what she’s saying and the way she’s saying it. True, it’s an ESPN ad, but Patrick plays right into it. And anyone who follows motorsports or watches at least a little ESPN has seen it.

The ad pumps up Patrick’s participation in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, but it goes about it all wrong. The ad simply rings too true—in the worst kind of way. And Patrick’s defiant voice over comes across hollow in the face of so many defeats, not to mention the lousy season she is having.

“She’s no Tony,” the ad says, using Patrick to do the voice over. “She’s no Juan Pablo,” Patrick continues.

If she’s referring to NASCAR’s Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya, I think we can all agree, Patrick is neither of those drivers. They’ve both won—on the IndyCar and NASCAR circuits. Patrick hasn’t done much on either circuit. So yes and yes, she’s no Tony or Juan Pablo.

The ad continues: “She doesn’t belong in NASCAR. She can’t handle the pressure. She’s just a marketing machine.”

Some would say to those proclamations, “check, check and check!”

In her defense, Patrick belongs in NASCAR more than some of the bottom feeders who show up week after week just to run a few laps then retire to the trailer. After all, at least she is a marketing machine. And I admit, the hype her marketing machine churns out is good for whatever series she’s in.

I have stood up for Patrick at times. I think she’s periodically a good driver when she’s focused. And she deserves to be given at least a year or two to find her way in NASCAR if she so chooses. Especially as long as someone is willing to pay her big bucks to do so. And there are times that Patrick is right in what she says. Namely, this year, when she told her IndyCar crew to get it in gear at Indianapolis.

But overall, Patrick needs to lose the defiant tone, take on a little humility, and focus on driving the car. When she does that, I think she’ll find she’s even more popular than she is today, both in the paddock and with motorsports fans.

The ESPN ad featuring Patrick concludes, “Some people love to talk, I just want to drive.” OK, Danica, that’s the smartest thing you’ve said publicly in a year.

Less talking, more driving. And a little winning wouldn’t hurt your image either.

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