Nearing the Checkered Flag
by Jené Burgers
‘Lights out and away we go!’ In the fast-pace and ever changing world of digital marketing it’s near impossible to fathom that as little as four years ago the world renowned sport of Formula 1 didn’t even have a digital media department. How could one of the most elite (some would argue elitist) sports not have flowed with the times and why had they decided to pivot into the digital world? The answer was simple: Fans.
Although Formula 1 had been able to maintain a considerable amount of spectators over the years the sport had not been able to grow its audience the same way other sports had and this was proving to be troublesome. So how did they do it? Again, the answer is simple: digital media.
‘…a short view back to the past…’
To see why things work as effectively as they do now we need to go back to see what FORMULA 1 was trying to do pre-2018 to gain better exposure to new audiences before their viewership ‘skyrocketed’. Previously F1 used relatively traditional forms of marketing: Adverts on sports channels, billboards, sponsorships… However as the marketing world changed the effectiveness of these investments did too, resulting in a ricochet with regards to sponsorships in F1. Sponsors don’t want to spend too much on brand placements that aren’t going to be seen by more people.
In 2014 F1 launched their mobile app, in an attempt to provide fans with easy access to information regarding lap times for each driver, lap numbers and sector classification and a range of news stories and commentary from Formula 1. Premium content for paid users included live timing, in-corner analysis, exclusive access to team radios, DRS data, race control messages and so much more. Nowadays the previously mentioned features are still offered with the introduction of a new F1 app F1TV (released 2018) where users can watch entire races on the mobile devices and get exclusive access to drivers on-board cameras throughout the race, the pit late and content from past races dating back further than 15years and for those who don’t want to spend on premium there are still more than enough features to keep you entertained.
Although the app was beneficial for pre-existing fans it couldn’t translate to new audiences as effectively – for obvious reasons, if you didn’t care for the sport why would you care for the app… So what has happened in the last 4 years that caused F1 to gain back their relevance?
The Game Changer – DIGITAL MEDIA
Although FORMULA1 didn’t have a digital media department, for a long LONG time, they did have accounts on various social media platforms such as YouTube(2005), Twitter(2009) and Instagram(2015). F1 realised they needed to change things up if they were hoping to grip younger generations and the answer lied in various forms of content on social media.
Adam Crother, the Head of Digital Media Rights for FORMULA1 listed 5 things they had to learn in order to successfully meet the needs the new generation of fans:
1. Dial up personalities
2. Being playful with franchises
3. Go big on lists
4. Digging into archives
5. Knowing when to go in-depth
1. DIAL UP PERSONALITIES
People have probably heard of Lewis Hamilton but for a long time no one really ‘knew’ him just as no one really ‘knew’ any of the other drivers on the grid. By ‘dialling up personalities’ F1 basically wants to give viewers the opportunities to get to know the driver’s on a more personal level and use them as a means of influencer marketing. F1 has managed to successfully ‘raise the curtain’ by using several methods. Notably their partnership with Netflix to create the docu-series ‘Drive to Survive’ gives viewers an insight to drivers personalities throughout a season, you get to see a front seat to their F1 experience, witness their emotions, see how they live off-track and so much more.
F1 themselves have started offering more Q and A’s and behind the scenes content on their social media accounts; again providing the opportunity to showcase the 20 drivers personalities. Content includes video quizzes like ‘Grill the Grid’ where drivers answer questions relating to F1 (such as which countries host grand prix’s, names of current and previous teams…) and their podcast ‘Beyond the Grid’ (which in 2019 raked up a whopping 19million listens!) again deepening the experience for fans. By creating this content it’s allowed fans to gain more knowledge about the how’s and the whys of the sport adding more value to the F1 viewing experience.
2. BEING PLAYFUL WITH FRANCHISES
Crother speaks about their creation of YouTube content like ‘Kids Ask the F1 Drivers’ where kids based in the country where a race is being held ask the drivers questions both related and unrelated to sport. F1s use of franchises expands further than what they’ve done though.
The teams competing are brands by themselves however offer incredible additional content aiding F1’s goal to increase their reach to new generations. For example McLaren offers more behind the scenes content for their team with their YouTube series “McLaren Unboxed”; Red Bull’s second team Alpha Tauri offers takes on a personal approach with their YouTube series “Behind the Visor” where drivers chat about a range of topics from their favourite music, their personal style and so much more. The remaining 8 teams also offer a range of additional content on their pages, all benefiting the viewership and growth of F1’s online presence.
3. Go big on lists
People love lists! I mean part of your mind probably lit up when you saw the numbered format a few paragraphs ago. Lists are an easy to view format. They’re simple. You know exactly what you’re getting. F1 has used lists such as ‘Top 5’, and ‘Top 10’ to showcase a range of feel good moments, best overtakes, best race radios and tons more that they advertise on the Instagrams and Twitter accounts and then feature fully on their website, YouTube page and the F1 mobile app.
4. Digging into archives
F1 has been a sport since the 1950’s and started broadcasting to audiences in 1978. This means there’s 43 years’ worth of historic video content that F1 can pull from to showcase the greats over the years, bring back incredible race moments and create new content using old content; all to assist in creating an effective and emotion evoking brand story for FORMULA1 that has the potential to resonate with veteran fans and newcomers. F1 has used this content on their app, the FORMULA 1 website, their IGTV and their YouTube channel.
5. Knowing when to go in-depth
It only takes a short scroll through the F1 Instagram Page or Twitter account to see that with regards to short attention grabbing content F1 has got that covered. In the article Crother says they complement their lists with long-form documentaries, which are also featured on the YouTube channel, as well as on their app. It’s easy to conclude that they realised an effective way to get their audiences hooked and then funnel them towards more and different content on various other platforms. They do this exceptionally well with their Instagram stories and posts too where they show the audience a teaser of longer content that’s featured on their other social media pages.
The final lap
To conclude over the last four years, despite even a globe halting pandemic, FORMULA1 (although entering late to the game) have successfully been able to reach a new audience whilst also providing longer standing fans with better informational and entertainment value. They realised that people wanted to know and see more about the workings of the sport, the drivers and the teams and they used this to create short and long form gripping content for their social media pages, taking new and old fans ‘into the paddock’. This has all assisted them in flowing with the ever-changing digital world and engraving their sport in this new age.
They’ve successfully used YouTube as a platform to engage with F1 fans, at 5.8 million+ subscribers in 2021 and ever-growing engagement statistics. As well as an increase in the use of the F1 and F1TV app. One could definitely argue that FORMULA1 has been able to solidify themselves with the up and coming generations.
En.wikipedia.org. 2021. Formula 1: Drive to Survive – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formula_1:_Drive_to_Survive> [Accessed 23 July 2021].
Formula1.com. 2021. Formula 1 viewing figures 2019: F1 broadcast to 1.9 billion total audience in 2019 | Formula 1®. [online] Available at: <https://www.formula1.com> [Accessed 23 July 2021].
Crother, A., 2021. Driving results: How Formula 1 is reshaping the fan experience in the digital world. [online] Thinkwithgoogle.com. Available at: <https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-gb/marketing-strategies/video/formula-one-fan-experience-digital/> [Accessed 23 July 2021]
About the author
Jené Burgers is a digital marketing analyst with the International Institute of Digital Marketing. She is based in the beautiful country of South Africa, an avid fan of Formula 1 racing and has a keen interest in digital media and marketing and its influence on the world.