While NASCAR fans are a hugely fertile and hugely loyal marketing target for innumerable products, including beer, one wouldn’t necessarily associate them with being big wine lovers.
But for Banfi’s Riunite, that spelled an opportunity.
In 2009, the wine brand began sponsorships with NASCAR tracks around the country (it’s not an official NASCAR sponsor) centered on offering sampling events, and it’s been expanding the initiative each year.
Last year, the program took place during seven races at six tracks and distributed some 69,000 samples. This year, it will have a presence at nine races at seven tracks, and Riunite projects that it will distribute at least 80,000 samples, reports Charles Dellavecchia, European portfolio director for Banfi, one of the U.S.’s largest wine importers.
Rationale? Women account for about 70% of U.S. wine consumption, they make up 40% to 45% of NASCAR fans, and Riunite has found that they’re indeed open to trying wine as a refreshing alternative to beer and other alcoholic beverages commonly found at the tracks, says Dellavecchia. In addition, both men and women are considered a target for conversion to buying the brand for at-home enjoyment.
Riunite may not be the choice of oenophiles, but according to Banfi, its sweet, fruity Lambrusco (which represents 90% of Riunite’s sales), introduced in the U.S. in 1969, was the #1 imported wine in the U.S. for 26 years (1974 to 2000), and remains the #1 Italian red import and within the top five of all imported wines.
At the tracks, the brand samples both Riunite Lambrusco and its white D’Oro Moscato through branded RV’s outside the track and (where allowed by law and the track sponsorship) through teams that pass around sample trays inside the tracks. It also hands out coupons to encourage buying the wines for at-home consumption.
Outside the on-site events, Riunite generates NASCAR tie-in interest through a sweepstakes offering grand prizes of trips to the Richard Petty Driving Experience (which includes fans getting to sit next to a professional NASCAR driver as the driver does high-speed laps). Last year, more than 200,000 fans entered online and at retail locations, according to Dellavecchia — a big boost for the brand’s opt-in promotional database.
In addition, Riunite promotes the at-track sampling opportunities and sweeps in stores and through its Facebook and Twitter presences. And this year, it will gain additional exposure through Riunite billboards inside the tracks where it’s a sponsor – the billboards will be picked up by TV cameras in the course of TV coverage of the events.
Starting last year, Riunite also began to be sold by the glass at tracks, where allowable. About 2,800 glasses were sold during the 2011 racing season, even as free samples were being given out.
That, along with data showing significantly increased awareness of the brand among the NASCAR audience, adds up to this being a winning marketing proposition for Riunite, says Dellavecchia. “From race to race, the fans at the tracks come back to us to tell us that they have tried and enjoyed Riunite at other races, and continue to enjoy it,” he says. “And a NASCAR fan’s loyalty, once won, is extremely valuable. Many brands try NASCAR-related sponsorships and give up after a year or two. We’re very pleased with our results, and we’re in this for the long haul.”