F1 make some noise!

Motor Racing – Formula One World Championship – Chinese Grand Prix – Preparation Day – Shanghai, China

The proliferation of social media for everyone in F1 has meant it’s a lot more difficult to stand out from the crowd. Producing content is time-consuming and can be expensive. So, who’s getting it right?

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When Martini re-joined Formula 1 they made a real impact. Not only had a brand with iconic racing heritage come back to the sport, but they were also immaculately dressed, they gave Williams a 2014 make-over with vintage livery cues, and also within the media announcement they promised that “Off the track, consumers will have a unique opportunity to connect with Williams Martini Racing through compelling race lifestyle content and experiential activations around key races.”

But what do Martini, or indeed any sponsor’s social media bring to the party? In the good old days before the digital revolution, a brand would get a sticker on the car, an invitation to the race/knees-up at Monaco and a press release heralding the new partnership. In 2014 however the access to fans, their habits, demographics and geography mean the partnership has shifted and so has the relationship. As well as the livery, tickets and press release the partner now has amazing content to offer its own brand ambassadors. And for some of the less, how should we say, glamourous companies this is a godsend. Their relationship with the most aspirational sporting activity on the planet means their previously (slightly worthy?) digital channels, and especially social media platforms now have bloody brilliant stories to tell their fans – and more importantly, they can now become content producers for the F1 audience. Which is a massive win all round. The teams gets coverage by sponsors, sponsors get to write and now publish about their team and their respective fanbases double in one hit.

How does all that social content add to the conversation without just becoming even more digital flotsam and jetsam?

But does it? What can Sponsor add to what Team is already doing in the digital arena, and what can either of them do which is not covered by accredited members of the international press corps? How much “behind the scenes’ can be produced without either compromising the technological innovations a team owns or saturating fans’ social feeds with yet more images of drivers playing football/mountain biking/visiting sponsor’s HQ/blowing candles on a birthday cake.

It’s clearly horses for courses. Each sponsor has to decide how much time and effort it will invest in social media and online content and to what aim. How does all that social content add to the conversation without just becoming even more digital flotsam and jetsam?
Martini has a big social following and – as you’d expect – and a clean content line in Facebook content on their main page www.facebook.com/Martini; although the F1 contribution among the timely images and vintage posters is limited to re-posted Instagram videos. Perhaps the thinking is that while getting Martini into an F1 arena is a definite boost, there is a potential downside to overcrowding their existing fans’ feeds with sports news when the brand has such an established narrative anyway. And, as team title sponsor every post which the Williams team produce has a Martini mention, while Williams also does a much better than average job on its social feeds.

Infiniti as team title sponsor to the current world champions has done some pretty epic content to showcase their brand and their brand ambassador the social media-shy Sebastian Vettel. There were races with Mark Webber at the Nurburgring, this season’s Chinese calligraphy class and the best send-up of chop-socky martial arts films, the brilliant and hilarious Kung Fu Vettel: Drive of the Dragon: (*LINK https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0SQjAPL-8Y). They’ve not just backed the team, added a nice purple touch to its livery and joined the party on the Monaco Energy Station, they’ve understood Red Bull’s ethos, characteristics and invested heavily in producing interesting, engaging and entertaining content.

Santander is at the other end of the spectrum. This is partly due to the sobriety and lack of frippery and frivolity which a European bank needs to exude in these post-recession times, but also because it interestingly (cheers Fernando) supports both McLaren and Ferrari. Its F1 posts on www.facebook.com/santandergp don’t exactly jump up and down screaming with excitement because, as mentioned, it’s a financial institution and simultaneously needs to retain a degree of impartiality. Which, I guess, begs the question – what does it hope to achieve from social media? It’s not producing reams of content, while its status means it’s unlikely to dive into the lighter side of social media and – as Facebook’s algorithm not only evolves to favour (even more so) promoted posts over organic – its content is less likely to appear on newsfeeds. Facebook’s continued increase in numbers means you have to fight harder and pay more to even reach your fans, let alone get them to Like, Share or Comment.

Perhaps the social media curve has moved on. When F1 started to embrace social media in 2008/9 (well, more shake by the hand, say ‘how do you do?’ and look a bit suspicious, rather than embrace) it was a minor revolution as well as a revelation for a sport which retains and requires a good deal of distance between public and pit lane and Paddock. Where once the hallowed ground beyond the swipe gates was off-limits to mere mortals who paid for a grandstand ticket suddenly every team, truckie and TV station had a Twitter account and was posting selfies with celebrities on Instagram. While that initial burst of behind the scenes content and gossip has not diminished in its output, it’s no longer as exciting for the audience of fans it was created to serve. Which does leave a headache for those asked to come up with a social media strategy for sponsors. At some stage, someone is going to have to turn around and say: “Frankly we don’t need one.”

Because while the fans have demanded more noise from their F1 cars this season, what they, actually none of us, really require is any more noise on their social media feeds.

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