Nonprofit Wins Big on Horse Racing’s Triple Crown

Common Ground Alliance lands a promotional trifecta

You’ve probably heard a lot about California Chrome, the thoroughbred vying for the Triple Crown this weekend. But there’s a behind-the-scenes story involving the equine that makes for a marketing trifecta.

During the Kentucky Derby on May 3, the nonprofit Common Ground Alliance—which works with dedicated call centers in every state, advising people to beware of old pipes and wires before digging in the dirt—paid $30,000 to have its “Call 811” logo emblazoned down the right pant leg of jockey Victor Espinoza.

Amid chatter around a Triple Crown prospect, Espinoza’s team told CGA it could continue the promo during the Preakness for $50,000 or get the Preakness and Belmont Stakes (June 7) for $100,000. Otherwise, another advertiser, Maserati, was waiting in the wings.

CGA has a small budget, but after appealing to its members, it was able to secure $89,000 to keep the Chrome placement across the three races.

The ad buy looked like a real score after California Chrome won the Preakness on May 17. The three races and subsequent buzz cost the advertiser considerably less than what brands pay Twitter for a one-day Promoted Trend.

“Honestly, before they approached me, I hadn’t heard of Call 811,” Espinoza told Adweek. “And now, everyone who watches horse racing knows about it.”

To further promote the CGA and leverage his growing fame, the California-based jockey will shoot a public service announcement in English and Spanish. On June 3, he will participate in a tweet-up to push the sponsor’s cause and to chat with fans about what could be a historic Belmont Stakes where California Chrome could become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

CGA has enlisted local chapters and corporate partners including Shell and 3M to create social buzz around Call 811. Nascar’s Greg Biffle and Joey Logano, who have relationships with those sponsors, will tweet questions with the hashtag #811chromie to Espinoza during the tweet-up in an effort to stoke the social fire.

“Our metrics have been off the chain,” said Khrysanne Kerr, CGA’s vp, communications, noting that Google searches were up 50 percent after the Preakness, and that at 7 a.m. the Monday after the race, its Indiana call center had 101 calls waiting in the queue.

Bob Dorfman, sports marketing analyst at Baker Street Advertising, wondered whether CGA would be able to sustain the buzz beyond the campaign. But, he added, “for the money [invested], it’s still a bargain.”

Not everyone, of course, can win the ad race.

Delta Tau Data Systems, Espinoza’s sponsor in 2013, did not have the marketing budget to re-up this year.

“That didn’t work out too great for us, did it?” said Richard Dimitri, marketing manager, Delta Tau. “It’s all about timing and when you are riding that horse.”

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