Fewer races, more exposure in Kevin Harvick’s Bud to Busch shift

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CONCORD, N.C. — Anheuser-Busch is rebranding defending Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Chevrolet with fewer races but more exposure next season.

The car will carry Busch and Busch Light for 12 races in 2016 after a five-season run of Harvick being affiliated with Budweiser, which will maintain a personal-services contract with the driver.

Nick Kelly, Anheuser-Busch’s director of experiential marketing, said the move was driven to spotlight the Busch brand, which has lacked a national platform since ceasing its 23-year title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Xfinity Series after the 2007 season. That will mean more commercials and point-of-sale marketing centered on Harvick.

“The biggest thing is taking Kevin and hopefully putting him on a bigger stage with a beer company,” Kelly said Thursday during a news conference at Charlotte Motors Speedway. “For us to take that next step to really bring him back up to the forefront was huge for us.”

A-B has sponsored Harvick through Budweiser in about 20 races annually since the 2011 season. Kelly said the reduction of eight races would represent a “slight decrease” in its sponsorship of Stewart-Haas Racing, but that its investment would increase on TV commercials and other promotions.

“It was a reallocation,” he said. “We took a lot of financing that was in place to sponsor races and put it behind activation. We had a great platform in place but didn’t have all the resources to activate it. We’re taking that to put it behind activation. You’ll see a lot more of us at retail because we have that funding to push it.”

Kelly said next season is the last in its contract with Harvick and SHR, but talks have started about extending the deal.

The rebranding will begin with the 2016 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway (a race once known as the Busch Clash) and emphasize Busch’s history in NASCAR. Cale Yarborough drove a Busch-sponsored car in the memorable 1979 Daytona 500, which ended with Yarborough fighting with Bobby and Donnie Allison.

Chelsea Phillips, director of value brands for A-B, said the company would market to NASCAR fans through fishing and hunting activities tied into Harvick.

“I’m really excited when you hear talk about the national platform and listening to the plans that everybody has with Busch and tying them into the properties that they already have with the outdoors things,” Harvick said. “It really fits what I do, who I am and who our fan is. I’m excited to be part of  it.”

Harvick, who advanced to the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a dramatic victory Sunday at Dover International Speedway, will turn 40 in December, which puts him in the target demographic for Busch consumers. Phillips said the brand’s target audience is 35 and older and tends to be working class.

Kelly said the move to Busch was about engagement over awareness, noting that Budweiser has a 99% awareness rating. Bud will remain in NASCAR through track sponsorships, while Harvick will become a “guy to cheer for those extremely loyal NASCAR fans already enjoying Busch.

“The core audience is the NASCAR audience,” he said. “The die-hard, working-class person. Kevin is amazing with consumers, and he wins. We want the best driver and feel we’ve got it.”