CHICAGO On July 15, an employee of the Chicagoland Speedway was helping clean up Sprint Nextel's hospitality suite at the USG Sheetrock 400 Nascar race when he came across a scrap of paper with some writing on it. "Martin Truex Jr.," read the note, along with a phone number. "Ask him about a million dollars."
Concerned the driver's personal phone number might fall into the wrong hands, the employee hastily turned it over to Sprint Nextel marketing executives.
Little did he know the paper was part of an extensive promotion devised by the telecom company and its agency, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, to promote the SprintSpeed Million sweepstakes. In addition to television and print advertising promoting the sweepstakes, the company and agency printed around 5,000 messages meant to look like personalized notes with a driver's name and phone number.
Curious consumers, when dialing the number, reached what was allegedly the driver's voicemail. The message stated that the mailbox was full, but that the call would be returned. A few minutes later, the driver would call back with a pre-recorded message informing the consumer that he or she was entered in the $1 million sweepstakes.
One message, from former champ Jimmie Johnson, was created to sound like he was in a helicopter and couldn't hear very well. After providing information about the sweepstakes, he says, "Oh hey, my lawyer wants to talk to you." The lawyer reads the disclaimer.
The messages, which were printed on notebook, paper bag and magazine scraps, were strategically placed around tracks in Chicago, Pocono, Michigan and Watkins Glen when Nascar races were taking place. Some were left on picnic tables, some in garages and others in the pit area, which fans can visit before the race. The idea was not only to have the fans call the numbers, but to have them pass the information on to other fans, said Dean Kessel, director of the Nextel Nascar Cup Series marketing for the company.
"It creates a buzz for us when you have the [drivers'] names on the scrawls of paper," said Kessel. "Everything we do is about bringing fans closer to the sport."
According to Kessel, company and Nascar research shows one of the reasons fans like the sport is their ability to get close to the action. They are also sponsor and driver loyal, living for the moment to meet a driver or get an autograph, Kessel said. In addition to the sweepstakes, the company also sponsors fan zones at races and sets up a "Nextel experience" trackside display that includes driving simulators and live driver question-and-answer sessions.
According to the sweepstakes rules, 12 finalists will be paired with 12 drivers vying for the cup. Each one will receive a VIP trip to one of the races, and the entrants associated with the top three drivers will head to the final race in Miami in November. At that race, the entrant linked to the driver who wins the Nextel Cup will receive $1 million
In keeping with this strategy, Sprint Nextel has enlisted the top 12 drivers to also make a personal phone calls to their respective entrants. To avoid tongue-tied fans (and to increase traffic to their Web site), the company set up a microsite where people can practice their calls. On the Web site, entrants are asked to pick a driver, call in to a special number and answer questions. The site then plays a version of the conversation using the recorded answers.
In all, the company produced less than 5,000 printed pieces, but received many more times that in sweepstakes entries, Kessel said. Sprint Nextel wouldn't disclose the number of submissions (entries could be made via Sprint Nextel phones, in retail stores or at Nextel booths at the races), but Kessel said the company considers the effort a success. "It's trending to be the most successful promotion we've had," he said.