The most important lessons I learned working with Dale Jr.

I have worked with a lot of well-known humans during my advertising career. Advertising and well-known humans, aka celebrities, are made for each other. That’s because there is a powerful affinity triangle that predicts that if you like a celebrity, and that celebrity likes a product or service, then the chances are good that you will like that product or service too. This is why so many of our moms bought us Skippy peanut butter.  #annettefunicello

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of the most influential celebrities I have ever worked with. Dale and I worked together for several years on marketing efforts for  Nationwide Insurance, a major NASCAR sponsor.

Nationwide tested every commercial we ever created (and many that never saw the light of day). Time after time, and test after test, I was amazed at just how much influence Dale Jr. had on an audience’s interest in what Dale Jr. was selling. This was made even clearer when we tested the exact same scripts with and without Dale in them. Take my word for it, you don’t want to create a Dale Jr. spot without Dale Jr.

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Dale loved my FRUITCAKE shirt almost as much as I do.

Retirement 

This weekend Dale Jr. will run his final NASCAR race at Homestead. Then he will hang up  his fire suit and left-hand turns to begin what will surely be a successful broadcasting career. As his time inside the car comes to a conclusion, I find myself reflecting on what has made Junior such an influential spokesperson. Afterall, Nationwide, Chevy, Mountain Dew, Budweiser, Wrangler, Hellmann’s, The U.S. National Guard, TaxSlayer and others wouldn’t be climbing all over each other to work with him if he wasn’t a world-class selling machine.

3 Things That Make Dale Jr. Super Influential.

Here are the top 3 reasons Dale Jr. is a world-class celebrity endorser.

He is relatable. Perhaps the greatest thing about Dale Jr. is that total strangers feel as if they know him. People who have never met him feel like he is a friend, a neighbor, a cousin, nephew or uncle. As the son of another well-known celebrity driver, Dale Earnhardt Sr., NASCAR fans and followers have watched Junior grow up. They know his story. They know his successes and his hardships. And they feel as if Dale is just like them. Which is why he has been voted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for 14 years in a row.

He is authentic.  I have never worked with a celebrity that knows how to be themself better than Dale knows how to be Dale. After working with him the very first time it was crystal clear the he knows exactly who he is. He knows what does and doesn’t sound right coming from him. We rarely asked Dale to act. We wrote spots so that Dale could just be himself. We let him call an audible on set if he felt he would state a phrase differently than we wrote it in the script. Advertising audiences always have their BS meter on. They can sniff out a phony a Talladega lap away. But Dale’s authenticity assured there was no BS to detect. So racing fans bought into Dale big time.

He means what he says: Dale doesn’t really sell things as much as he shares what he actually believes. He really likes Chevy cars and trucks. He really wears Wrangler jeans and thinks they are real. And comfortable. And jeans. He really protects his businesses, his personal cars, his property, his family and dog with Nationwide Insurance. Which makes it really easy for him to earnestly endorse the merits of Nationwide Insurance.

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Director Adam Jones, Dale, Me, several shadows, and a woman fleeing the scene with her purse and a cool hat.

Dale’s Lasting Impressions On Me:

Dale is a good human being. And I’d be willing to bet that he would be happier to have people say that about him than almost anything else. As I reflect on all the work we did together there are a few profound points that stick out.

Photos:  Dale, like so many NASCAR drivers, recognized the value of a picture. He was gracious with all requests to have a photo taken with him by cast, crew, agencies, clients and fans. In fact, he seemed honored every time someone requested a photo with him. I always admired that.

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My team getting a great picture at the end of a great shoot day with Dale Jr. in Charlotte.

The Beard: We always liked to shoot Dale clean-shaven. For adverting purposes he looks better without a beard. But one year we knew going into the shoot that he had grown a Zac-Brownian beard. After a few lean years on the track he was driving like a superstar again. I have no doubt that he felt his beard was part of his positive change. When he arrived on set the day of the shoot he brought the beard with him. This created drama. He clearly wanted to keep the beard.

We, on the other hand, wanted to see his handsome face. After we sat down and discussed our perspective with him he said that if we really felt that strongly about the beard he would shave. Within 10 minutes he emerged from the motorhome, sans beard, ready to shoot. He never complained. He didn’t hold a grudge (at least not outwardly). He was the consummate professional. We had a great shoot and created two really great commercials. While we may have won the battle of the beard, Dale Jr. really won us over with the way he handled the situation.

The Church Sign: One day we were filming Dale driving his Chevy SUV on a country road. At one point we pulled into a church parking lot to regroup and prepare for the next shot. I remember Dale taking a picture of the inspirational message on the sign in front of the church. It reminded me that we all need to seek out the good, the inspirational and the reassuring, and put it in our pocket, or phone, so that we have it when we need it most.

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This was from the first time Dale and I worked together. One of my clients predicted that we would get along well, because I wasn’t ‘All Hollywood.’

Thank You Dale.

Thanks for all that you did to make each of our efforts together successful. Thanks for your patience. Thanks for delivering for us every time. Thanks for getting up earlier than you wanted to. And sticking around the set longer than you wanted to. Thanks for the great stories you shared during our interviews. Thanks for taking time for just one more picture. And thanks for sharing your friends and family with us too. We had a lot of fun working with you. I think I speak for everyone who worked with you at Engauge and Nationwide when I say thanks for being on our side.

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Why Peyton Manning should be in the Marketing Hall of Fame.

 

Super Bowl 50 has come and gone. There were winners and at least one very sore loser. There was the expected halftime Pepsiganza and gonzo commercials. But what was particularly interesting to armchair marketingbacks  were the brands that scored extra points outside the 30 second commercial thanks to Denver Broncos quarterback, Peyton Manning.

After a historic career Peyton has an open invitation to the Pro Football Hall of fame. But as the clock counts down on his days playing football Peyton Manning will transition seamlessly into his next chapter. Because Peyton knows marketing. And endorsement. And business. Perhaps better than any other current athlete. My good friends at Nationwide will surely want him to share how their insurance and financial products will help him in retirement. Because those guys are on his side (and your side too). But I believe his actual retirement plan looks like this:

  1. Take a stake in a brand.
  2. Market brand at big moments.
  3. Cash checks.

We got a good look at his playbook during the Super Bowl. Just in case you missed it, here’s a breakdown of three of his scores.

The first came just before kickoff. Because it was Super Bowl 50 it created the perfect opportunity to honor the 49 past Super Bowl MVPs. The NFL invited them all to the game. And one by one they were announced to the crowd, emerged from the tunnel to much applause, and took their place in Canton’s West Coast Exhibit. There was, however, one notable exception. Peyton Manning. When they announced Manning’s name the collective NFL fan base wondered what would happen next. Was he really going to come out and join this elite group? Surely not. Didn’t he have someplace more important to be? I had flashbacks to when the Von Trapp Family Singer’s were announced as the winners of the Nazi talent show in The Sound of Music. So what happened next?

Suddenly the television coverage cuts to a profile shot of Peyton, sitting alone in the locker room. But wait! He was dressed to play, football!?! But he is 39 years old!?! How could he still be playing in the Super Bowl? Nobody this old has ever started at quarterback in the Super Bowl. But the answer was right there too. Because Peyton was seated in front of perfectly positioned pallets of performance-sustaining, career- sustaining, camera-shot-sustaining Gatorade. And if that wasn’t enough, the NFL’s ambassador to AARP was shown contemplatively sipping from his electrolyte-laden fountain of youth. Touchdown for Gatorade. Just another day at the office for this veteran spokesback.

Petyon drinking gatorade

The second marketing score was on a trick play. Just as the clock was ticking to zero and all eyes and cameras were on Peyton he started to jog onto the field. But then he stopped. He turned to his left and obviously saw someone worthy of his attention. So he paused before he ran on to the field to celebrate the biggest and perhaps final moment of his career. But who would warrant a delay at such a moment? Archie Manning? John Elway? Beyonce’? Nope. The next thing we saw on camera was a hearty embrace between Peyton and John ‘Papa John’ Schnatter, The Pizza King of Louisville. Peyton obviously plays starting endorserback for Papa Johns. And he own 21 franchises in Colorado. But I was certainly surprised to see that they were close enough and brand savvy enough to get their pepperoni rally  in front of a world stage.

Peyton and Papa

The final drive was for Budweiser. After Old Man Manning won the Super Bowl the world wanted to know, “Are you going to ride off into the sunset now on your Bronco, or Colt or Buick? We waited with bated breath. But Peyton really wanted to kiss his wife and kids before he got himself a little beer breath. Which is what he said next. But not with just any beer. He said this moment called for the King of Beers, Budweiser. Twice he mentioned that he wanted to drink a bunch of Budweiser. Once in his post game interview and again on stage accepting the Lombardi Trophy. Closer examination reveals that Peyton owns a swig of two Budweiser distributors in Louisiana. Which means Peyton was going to celebrate his win by taking care of a little more business.

As you contemplate your next marketing move consider teaming up with someone who can help your brand move further faster. It doesn’t have to be a household name. Because in the social age important influencers are everywhere. They are key employees, consumers, bloggers, tweeters and YouTube celebrities. They can all be important advocates for your brands, dropping natural endorsements for you at important moments.  And the value you receive from your relationship may far exceed the investment. After all, my best performing blog post was the one Vanilla Ice retweeted. But just imagine if I could get Peyton to mention my blog …