Miller Riding High With Online Racing Game

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Miller Brewing Co. has gathered "tens of thousands" of e-mail addresses through Miller Lite Virtual Racing League, a 42-week online fantasy stock car game the company debuted in late February.


"We're really happy so far with the participation," said Gina Shaffer, digital marketing manager at Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee. "About 65 percent of the people who register come back on an average of 1.3 times per week."


Users enter their name, date of birth and e-mail address at Millerlite.com to start a league with friends or join an existing one. To create a team, users choose a name, number and paint scheme for their car as well as a driver from 64 fictitious profiles.


Users receive a bank account of "sponsorship money" to pay for everything associated with running their team and earn more sponsorship money throughout the season by collecting codes found on CD-ROMs in specially marked packages of Miller Lite and print and online advertising. Codes are redeemed at Millerlite.com.


"You need codes to build up your sponsorship bank, which allows you to improve your drivers and fix your car," Shaffer said. "People see the codes and immediately want to build up their bank accounts. It gives them that little added incentive to go to the site."


Online banner ads touting the Virtual Racing League also contain codes. Chicago-based marketing firm Starcom IP placed banners on Playboy.com, Nascar.com, Sportsline.com and Sandbox.com.


"They basically presented proposals to Starcom, who created a short list which we reviewed to determine which ones would be the most effective," Shaffer said.


Print ads appear in Sports Illustrated, Winston Cup Series and other racing publications.


An "Invite A Friend" icon on the Virtual Racing League home page lets users enter e-mails for their friends along with personalized messages.


"The viral aspect of 'Invite A Friend' is really important to the overall Miller Lite VRL," Shaffer said. "The initiative is not designed to necessarily help build our database. However, it certainly was designed in the spirit of building relationships between our brands and consumers."


Participants also get information about other Miller Brewing online promotions.


"It's a way for us to keep those consumers who have expressed interest in what we are doing online aware of what is new and what we think they might be interested in," Shaffer said.


A computer program by Red Sky, New York, an interactive solutions provider, runs Miller Lite's weekly Virtual Racing League races. Winners are determined through the computer's pre-selected optimum result, based on track type, dimensions and weather. Users receive e-mails describing race results on Monday mornings.


The VRL grand prize is a spot on NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace's pit crew during a four-day trip to a stock car race in 2002. Top teams in each league at the end of six race sessions win Miller Lite racing jackets, racing scanners and DVD players.


"We hope that programs like this reinforce in people's minds that they are making the right choice," said Scott Bussen, marketing communications manager for Miller Lite.


Bussen said consumers hold up to nine brands in their consideration set.


"Beer is a very social product, and for most American beer drinkers, it's more about the social interaction than the product in the bottle," he said. "The objective is to make them feel good about choosing Miller Lite over another brand."


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