Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a huge NASCAR fan (Go Tony Stewart!). Yesterday was the second race of the 2009 Sprint Cup season — the Auto Club 500 at Fontana, Calif. As I was watching the race, I saw a commercial (as well as a sponsored car and other race segment sponsorships) from Ask.com. According the commercial, Ask.com is the official search engine of NASCAR. After I got up off the floor from laughing uncontrollably, I had to ask, seriously??
I keep asking myself, how is it that Ask.com keeps getting back in the game? For years now, Google has been capturing more and more market share in the search wars, but Ask.com keeps holding on to its small share (3.7% as of January 2009, according to ComScore). Apparently, they’re making some decent ad revenue, reporting $183.7 million in revenue for 2008. Pretty respectable considering the loss of ad revenue for many advertising properties last year.
Ask.com has really been trying hard to capture more searchers. From the very strange “chicks with swords” ad to the Kato Kaelin ad to the ads featuring Ask.com’s creator, Dr. Apostolos Gerasoulis, (and my new favorite, the pregnant woman ad), it seems like Ask.com is just the little engine that could — it just keeps on hanging in there. Or is Ask just annoying as hell? A noisy distraction that refuses to go away?
Now for those of you who are not familiar with NASCAR sponsorship, it isn’t cheap. So will the deal pan out for Ask.com?
According to Jim Safka , CEO of Ask, the goal of the deal is “to make Ask the first search engine NASCAR fans use when seeking information about the sport.” Safka, have you MET NASCAR fans? It’s true that we’re an incredibly loyal bunch. For years, as a Tony Stewart fan, I would only shop at Home Depot — never Lowe’s — because of my admiration and respect for my driver and his sponsor. But I ask myself, will Ask.com’s sponsorship of NASCAR make me switch search engines?
How Other Companies’ Sponsorships Have Fared…
Take, for example, Toyota’s recent addition to NASCAR. 2007 was the first year that Toyota vehicles were added as one of the car models racing in the Sprint Cup races, alongside of American standards — Dodge, Ford and Chevy. Did Toyota’s new involvement in NASCAR mean more sales of Camrys? In the 2008 model year — a year of extreme difficulty for most automotive manufacturers, while sales were down from 2007, Camry sales still exceeded Chrysler’s entire passenger car sales. Surely the Camry sales weren’t completely due to NASCAR sponsorship, but maybe it did help.
On the flip side, there’s Sprint, the sponsor of the entire cup series, which is easily the most expensive, most visible sponsorship in all of NASCAR. Sprint inherited the sponsorship from Nextel, who took over the sponsorship of the series in 2005 from R.J. Reynolds, manufacturer of Winston cigarettes (hence the Winston Cup). Since 2005, however, the cup sponsorship hasn’t meant increased sales for Sprint. In fact, Sprint’s revenue has dropped by nearly 14% since 2006, and they recently announced a $1.6B loss in 4Q08 and will cut 8,000 jobs.
So will the NASCAR sponsorship pay off for Ask.com? Ask them — it may be the one question they can’t answer on their search engine.