Scoring the year’s third-highest debut on the Billboard 200 isn’t Luke Bryan’s only major achievement in 2013. The country superstar has also booked a multi-pronged sponsorship with Texaco that includes the remaining dates of his Dirt Road Diaries summer tour and Farm Tour this fall. The brand is also sponsoring Star Power giveaways including VIP tickets and meet-and-greets with Bryan, including a radio contest with Katz Media Group called “Keep Humming Along” to win a VIP road trip to his Dallas concert.
The deal with Bryan marks the centerpiece of an even larger country music for Texaco, which is looking to re-engage with some of the consumers it used to reach as part of its 20-year relationship with NASCAR before ending its ties in 2008. Instead, the oil brand is getting back in touch with its entertainment roots, having famously sponsored one of the earliest radio-to-television programs in the 1950s with the “Texaco Star Theater,” with hosts like Milton Berle. In addition to the Bryan tour, Texaco will be the official sponsor of the Country Music Association’s CMA Music Festival, CMA Awards and CMA Country Christmas. The country music strategy was led by Carrie Holt, integrated marketing and Texaco brand manager at Chevron Products Company, and media agency MEC Access, the Entertainment & Sports Partnership division of Group M’s MEC.
“Since 2011, we have focused on country music as a platform with the intent to build consumer loyalty among millions of country music fans that we know exist throughout the U.S. but also predominantly in the Southeast,” Texaco’s Holt says. “We looked at several possible artist candidates, but we landed on Luke because he shares a lot of the same attributes of the brand. He’s incredibly genuine, his live performance brings a level of energy to the stage that is not matched in my opinion.”
The tour has gotten additional exposure from Texaco’s 1,800 locations throughout the U.S., featuring Luke Bryan at point of purchase and on custom game cards to win VIP prizes as well. “Texaco is a brand all about performance, and Luke has this ability to bring it night after night,” says Jennifer Hageney, managing director of MEC Access. “We wanted to expand upon the connection between music and cars, so by aligning our brand with something so ingrained into consumers’ everyday lives we were able to establish that connection with the core audience.”
The early approach seems to be paying off. Talks with Bryan and his team began earlier this year, when he had another Billboard 200 No. 1 with EP compilation “Spring Break…Here To Party.” “It was kismet timing with our decision as well as where his star was just beginning to rise,” Holt says. “We saw a lot of opportunity in him, but I don’t think we knew just how far and how quickly his star would rise from there.”
While Bryan has already scored his second No. 1 album of the year, Texaco is looking for its own sales bumps. “We want to increase consideration and connectedness to the brand – give them another reason to buy us versus someone else,” Holt says. “We’ll take a look during first quarter of next year to see how it influences our quality perceptions, strengthens our performance metrics and see if we have more loyal consumers at the end of the day. We want to give people another reason to try us.”
There’s plenty of precedent for a successful outcome. MEC Access’ sister agency, Mediacom ESP (Entertainment & Sports Partnerships), recently renewed its 2012 relationship with Tim McGraw to an expanded program that included sponsorship of his 2013 tour and an original series with Vevo. In its first year, the program took home the Marketing & Promotion Awards at Billboard’s 2012 Touring Awards, and saw Pennzoil lift brand preference by 33% and likelihood to buy by 58% in a series of proprietary studies. Pennzoil also launched its first Facebook page on the back of the McGraw relationship and quickly assembled a fan base of over 87,000 worldwide -- with an additional 20,000 of those joining in the first month since the partnership was renewed.
Country music remains a blazing hot category for brands and sponsors, particularly for those who’ve grown increasingly skittish of inking hip-hop deals in the aftermath of Lil Wayne and Rick Ross’ lyric-related controversies. Mountain Dew announced a multi-tiered country music strategy in June in the wake of cancelling its deals with Wayne and Tyler, The Creator, while this year’s CMT Awards reported record sponsorship activity from clients like Nationwide Insurance, Pepsi, Verizon Wireless and Kia.