Friday, February 23, 2001

Ads with Earnhardt reviewed and revised

By Paul Nowell
The Associated Press

        CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With the death of seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, corporate sponsors are moving quickly to pull ads and revamp promotions.

[photo] NASCAR fan Kevin Fyke of Decatur, Ill., is confronted by images of NASCAR biggies Jeff Gordon (left) and Dale Earnhardt on soft drink machines at Racers Performance Memorabilia in Mount Zion, Ill. Coca-Cola used Mr. Earnhardt extensively in ads.
(Associated Press photos)
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        From Coca-Cola and General Motors to much smaller regional firms, sponsors knew that Mr. Earnhardt — “The Intimidator” to racing fans — helped fuel sales of everything from fried chicken to cars to soft drinks.

        Those same companies must now decide how to go forward since his tragic death Sunday.

        Veteran motorsports marketing executive Tom Cotter estimated Mr. Earnhardt's name was worth at least $20 million a year in sponsorships.

        “Every sponsor has a crisis plan on file that they hope they never have to open,” said Mr. Cotter, chairman of SFX/Cotter Group, a Harrisburg motorsports marketing firm. “Right now, they are canceling ads, stopping print runs and destroying promotional materials.”

        Mr. Earnhardt was one of 11 racers used in Coke ads that began running before the Daytona 500. His picture appeared on vending machines around the country.

[photo] Dale Earnhardt, at the Daytona track just two days before his death, attracted an extensive list of sponsors.
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        “Not taking away from any of the other (drivers), but Dale Earnhardt was bigger than life, no question about it. He's the star,” Lauren Steele, a Coke Consolidated spokeswoman who twice handed Mr. Earnhardt the Coca-Cola 600 trophy, told the Charlotte Observer.

        Mr. Earnhardt's connections in the business world run deep, from his race teams, a Chevrolet car dealership and his work with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco — which sponsors the Winston Cup Series — to Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World.

        Bass was offering customers the chance to win NASCAR tickets and meet Mr. Earnhardt. Company spokesman Larry Whiteley said the in-store messages have been changed and advertisements pulled.

        “He loved the outdoors, he hunted and fished,” Mr. Whiteley said. “And his fans were our kind of customers.”

        Mr. Earnhardt's appeal to working-class consumers was his gritty personality.

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