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Forget them NASCAR beer-drinking good ol' boys

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(Ogilvy & Mather, New York, photos) These shots from a promotional NASCAR video show drivers working out.

By Michael McCarthy. Crain News Service

NEW YORK (Feb. 27, 2014) — So you still think NASCAR drivers are not real athletes?

NASCAR and ad agency Ogilvy & Mather, New York, are trying to challenge the stubborn image of drivers as beer-guzzling good ol' boys as part of a new brand campaign that broke on Sunday, Feb. 23 during Fox's telecast of the Daytona 500.

Ogilvy's three new brand spots are designed to work together to promote NASCAR's new 2014 season, said Kim Brink, NASCAR's vice president of marketing.

One 30-second spot, "Machine," shows off the athleticism of NASCAR leading men such as defending Sprint Cup Series champ Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne.

Don't look for flashbacks to grizzled former moonshine runners with beer bellies grabbing a cigarette before a Winston Cup Series race on a dirt track.

Instead, we see three of NASCAR's fittest, most telegenic leading men—Mr. Johnson, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kahne—pumping iron, riding bikes, jumping rope and kickboxing. Interspersed with the shots of the trio's grueling fitness regimens are glamor shots of their respective race cars being prepped for the track. "Which is the machine?" asks the spot.

An aspirational 60-second spot focuses on how kids see drivers such as Danica Patrick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart as "heroes."

Another 60-second spot will highlight the evolution of the sport from its bootlegging beginnings to billion-dollar present.

This spot—called "Change"—will feature clips of legendary drivers such as the late Dale "The Intimidator" Earnhardt as well as a clip of the famous Cale Yarborough vs. Donnie Allison brawl at the Great American Race in 1979 that put NASCAR on the map as a hot, national TV property.

The "heroes and the villains" may change, notes the spot, but NASCAR is still NASCAR.

'World-class athletes'

Ms. Brink said the "Machine" spot "goes right at the idea that our drivers are world-class athletes."

Was NASCAR also going for some beefcake by highlighting Mr. Edwards, a fitness buff who previously appeared on the cover of ESPN the Magazine's "Body" issue?

Maybe "a little bit," admitted Ms. Brink. Nearly 50 percent of NASCAR fans are women, she noted.

"When we were working on it, we thought it would kind of appeal to women. The guys are very attractive. They are well put together.

"But we also wanted to do it in a way which had a serious tone. What they do is serious. So we think it will appeal to the male audience as well."

This will be Ogilvy's second big campaign for NASCAR. A senior NASCAR management team, including CEO Brian France, picked the shop after a lengthy review in 2012 that came down to three finalists: Ogilvy; Leo Burnett, Chicago; and McCann-Erickson North America.

"We re-launched the brand a year ago in Daytona focusing on driver star power to reinforce the unexpected and surprising nature of NASCAR racing," said Ogilvy President Adam Tucker in a statement. "This year's campaign is about deepening the human connection between fans and drivers.

"We're dramatizing the super-human, heroic athleticism one might not naturally associate with NASCAR drivers."

The campaign will not have a tagline. Instead, all the spots will direct viewers to at the end. NASCAR and Ogilvy debated whether or not to use a tagline for the season launch work. But they were concerned they'd need multiple taglines to go with their other sub-campaigns launching later this season, Ms. Brink said.

This report appeared on the website of Crain's Advertising Age magazine, a New York City-based sister publication of Tire Business.

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