A couple months ago I wrote about the successful long-term partnership between Anheuser-Busch and NASCAR driver and Busch brand ambassador Kevin Harvick.

Kevin is uniquely positioned to understand the relationship and the work involved from both sides; he's an experienced celebrity endorser and is the co-founder (with his wife, Delana) of KHI Management, a full-service sports and celebrity marketing agency.

(Yep: Kevin's a race car driver and an entrepreneur; if you're looking for a driver to root for, he just might be your guy.)

The night before this year's Daytona 500, Busch Beer and Kevin threw a party for 500 fans, culminating the months-long '500 to the 500' promotion in which fans searched for specially marked checkered-flag Busch Beer cans in packs of Busch or Busch Light, took a photo or video celebrating as if they were in victory lane with the can, and shared those images on Instagram and Twitter.

250 entries, plus a person of their choosing, won an all-inclusive trip to the Daytona 500 race weekend... and some quality time on Saturday night with their new best friend, Kevin Harvick.

Sounds great in theory, right? But when I hear about promotional events like this, I often wonder how they turn out in practice. 

So I decided to find out, and tracked down Lucas Bauer, one of the winners of the '500 to the 500.' 

"My twin brother Jacob actually found the '500 to the 500' can," Lucas said. "I submitted an entry and shortly after the new year Busch sent me a Twitter message to let me know I was a winner."

"Things got exciting really quickly," he laughed.

Oddly enough, Lucas is a Chase Elliott fan; his brother is the Harvick fan. So naturally Lucas invited Jacob along as his plus-one.  They received airline tickets and an itinerary, flew to Orlando where a driver met them to take them to the hotel, received some "nice Busch swag," and went to the Saturday night party.

"They didn't tell us Kevin would be there," Lucas says. "Even though I wondered, I didn't actually didn't think he would come since Daytona is an hour away from Orlando. And then he walked in. It was a real surprise. We all got to meet him, we all got a special edition signed hat... it was really cool."

The next day the group took charter buses to the track, enjoyed a private tailgate section in the midway, got passes to tour the infield and pits, were near the stage for the pre-race concert and then the driver introductions...

"They pulled out all the stops," Lucas says. "Everything was planned to a 'T.'

"And that was the first time I've met a driver face-to-face. It was a surreal experience after seeing Kevin on TV for all these years. And you can't imagine how excited my brother was since he's a big Harvick fan. NASCAR does a a good job of letting fans interact with the drivers, but this went way beyond that. Now we're spoiled. If we go to another race, we definitely want Busch to send us," Lucas says, laughing.

From a fan perspective the promotion definitely delivered on its promise. But Busch also decided to run its biggest NASCAR-based promotion at the season's very first race.

Front-loaded marketing is an interesting decision. So I asked about that, too.

"Racing is a big focus for the brand," says Daniel Blake, Senior Director of U.S. Value Brands for Anheuser-Busch. "The Daytona 500 is the biggest race, so there's no better way to start the season than with our biggest promotion.

"The Daytona 500 is a big part of the brand's history, so putting a big bet on the biggest event in racing was an easy decision."

Of course measuring the results of a promotional event like '500 to the 500' is tougher than analyzing traditional sales and marketing campaigns.

"Obviously we measure traditional metrics like volume sales, impressions, buzz... but with a program like this, it's more intangible," Daniel says. "With '500 to the 500,' it's about creating meaningful connections with core customers of the brand at a touch point that really means a lot to them. Many were lifelong racing fans that had never been to Daytona.

"Being able to meet people, talk to them, find out where they're from, actually connect... that goes beyond traditional marketing. We wanted them to enjoy the experience, but it was really cool for us as a company, too."

That's also true from Kevin's perspective. 

"The Busch Beer team took the fan experience to another level with the Busch '500 Fans to the Daytona 500' experience," Kevin told me. "They basically had 250 grand prize winner and a friend go to the biggest race of the year for the time of their lives.

"For me it was fun just for the fact that I got to meet so many fans the day before the Daytona 500. We got to shake hands, take pictures and just talk for a couple minutes with each person away from the racetrack. Rarely do we get to have that kind of interaction before any race, let alone the Daytona 500, so that really made it something special for everyone involved."

Add all those components up and you have the real key to pulling off a great promotional event. The initial idea -- and the brand awareness and social buzz you generate -- are important, but then execution must be spot-on. The program has to address your goals... but more importantly, it has to work for your customers.

And it has to work for everyone else involved, including your partners and influencers.

Do all those things and your promotional events can genuinely connect with your customers... and also be a source of pride for your employees and partners.

Published on: May 3, 2018
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