Commentary

Big winners in track-dryer explosion

Updated: February 24, 2013, 12:59 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

Safety workers clean up the track John Harrelson/Getty Images/NASCARWorkers clean up the track with Tide after a jet dryer burst into flames at the 2012 Daytona 500.

For many NASCAR fans, the lasting impression from the 2012 Daytona 500 is the moment Juan Pablo Montoya slammed into a jet engine-powered track dryer in Turn 3, igniting 200 gallons of jet fuel and delaying the marathon event by an additional 125 minutes.

Miraculously, no one was hurt in the collision. Once that was established, focus shifted to the mammoth cleanup effort, which incidentally carried tremendous residual advertising benefit for at least two brands charged with the task -- ServiceMaster Clean and Tide laundry detergent.

In 2009, ServiceMaster entered a five-year sponsorship agreement with NASCAR to sponsor the sport's caution periods. With that came the right to place branding on the cleanup vehicles, as a method to grow brand awareness and disseminate its message: commercial and residential cleanup and disaster restoration.

NASCAR owns the cleanup trucks, which are now painted yellow and emblazoned with ServiceMaster Clean branding. ServiceMaster spends less than $1 million annually on advertising, according to its president, Tom Coba.

[+] EnlargeJuan Pablo Montoya
Douglas Jones/US PresswireJuan Pablo Montoya escaped injury after losing control of his 42 car and hitting a track dryer.

As brand exposure goes, the company hit the mother lode during the jet-dryer cleanup effort, which was broadcast live on Fox network and replayed later on Speed Channel.

On behalf of ESPN.com, Repucom, a leading global sports marketing and research firm, studied what this meant for ServiceMaster. Repucom uses a two-pronged formula to determine on-screen media value: "Pure media value" -- or gross media equivalency -- is valuing time on screen as if it were traditional television advertising, using factors like time on screen, viewing audience and cost to reach them (CPM). Then there is "adjusted media value," which takes the gross media equivalency and pares it down based on the quality of the exposure.

All said, Repucom determined that ServiceMaster was on screen for more than two and a half minutes during the live Fox broadcast, equaling some $1.17 million in media value. This figure was adjusted for size on screen, location on screen and duration and occurrence of multiple logos. When those factors are not taken into account, the pure media value for the time on screen is closer to $5.6 million, Repucom said.

Joyce Julius, another leading market research firm, uses its own formula to calculate television exposure value, by comparing in-broadcast visual and verbal exposure to the estimated cost of a national commercial during the telecast and applies a recognition grade. This grade accounts for factors such as size and placement of the image on screen, as well as brand clutter and integration of the brand into the activity.

By Joyce Julius' calculations, during last year's Daytona 500 on Fox, and its re-air on Speed Channel, ServiceMaster Clean identity on the support vehicle Montoya made contact with was on-screen for a combined total of four minutes, 31 seconds -- good for a Joyce Julius recognition grade exposure value of $1,657,880.

It was an unexpected coup for the brand.

"Our concern over the health of the drivers was the first concern, making sure everyone was safe. Clearly we didn't want to have a casualty on national television," Coba said. "The positive message that came out of that for the brand was that we did get a tremendous amount of exposure in the moment, on TV -- the type of exposure that would cost into the millions if you really had to buy that type of television time."

Additionally, servicemasterclean.com appeared for four seconds, long enough to collect $36,855 in on-air value, according to Joyce Julius. There was also ancillary exposure. The photograph of the truck aflame appeared in trade journals and major publications, including USA Today.

"You couldn't necessarily plan in advance a media strategy like this," Coba said with a chuckle. "It would've taken a lot of logistics and planning and money to execute something like that. We benefited from that experience. It's unfortunate it happened, but again, the drivers were fine and we got a tremendous amount of exposure for our brand."

Coba is well versed in what that value meant to his company's brand. Prior to joining ServiceMaster Clean, he was chief operating officer of Subway, during which time he added more than $7.7 billion in new revenues and increased both same-store sales and franchise profitability seven years in a row. He was also instrumental in bringing Subway into NASCAR as both a team sponsor at Roush Fenway, first with Greg Biffle and then with Carl Edwards, and as a race sponsor at Phoenix International Raceway.

Before Subway, he spent 20 years at Dunkin' Brands, the franchiser that operates the Dunkin' Donuts, Baskin-Robbins and Togo's chains. At Dunkin' Brands, Coba held a number of executive roles, before ultimately being promoted to vice president of franchising and new business development.

"I've had my fair amount of media training and exposure over the years, so right in that moment [of the impact] I knew that was a big deal, to have that much air time on television," he said.

Coba was not in attendance at the Daytona 500 when the impact occurred. He'd been there all week, but flew home to attend Monday morning meetings. He watched the situation unfold from his couch. Immediately, he said, text messages, emails and phone calls began pouring in from business acquaintances -- "Is that your truck?"

"Because there was no incremental investment necessary for that, other than the repair and cleanup afterwards -- certainly that was media exposure that if you really, truly had to add up all the GRPs and what that would cost, it was a nice return," he said.

The same applies for Proctor & Gamble's Tide brand. Tide has been a NASCAR staple for decades, sponsoring winning drivers such as Darrell Waltrip, Ricky Rudd and Ricky Craven. But its role last year at Daytona was different. It was used to wash the jet fuel from the track surface.

As a result, a trio of Tide boxes spent 24 seconds on the live national broadcast, equaling $358,965 in brand exposure value, according to Joyce Julius.

Peter Laatz, executive vice president for Repucom, added, Tide "couldn't have scripted it better themselves." The adjusted value of the integration of its product was nearly $300,000, while pure on-screen time was valued at $834,000, according to Repucom's analysis.

Tide capitalized the following weekend during the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix, running a 15-second commercial spot with footage from the cleanup effort with the following message: "You keep inventing stains. We'll keep inventing ways to get them out."

Budweiser also received unexpected return on investment during the jet-dryer red flag. The beer brand's signage on the Daytona International Speedway backstretch garnered significant coverage, with nearly nine minutes of coverage during red-flag interviews with drivers, the most of any brand analyzed by Repucom on behalf of ESPN.com, during the incident.

However, while Budweiser was on-screen the longest, its value per second was lowest, Repucom said. Brands such as  ServiceMaster, Tide and CAT had per-second values five times greater than standard track signage, due to the integration of actual product usage.

In contrast, Budweiser's nine minutes on screen returned only $934,000 in value.

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