Miller Brewing Co. will break an interactive marketing campaign later this year after building a database of beer drinkers who are also fans of stock car racing.
At the heart of this database effort is the Miller Lite Virtual Racing League, an online fantasy racing game running during the February-to-November NASCAR season.
Since http://www.millerlitevrl.com went live Feb. 4, the site already has exceeded last year's tally of 105,000 registered players.
“This year, the goal was to have 150,000, and we have 170,000 about a third of the way through the NASCAR season,” said Bill Brock, client partner at San Francisco-based Red Sky, an Agency.com division specializing in consumer lifestyle brands.
Miller expects 250,000 to 270,000 names by the game's end in early December. These consumers furnished e-mail and other data and agreed to accept messages from Miller.
“The ultimate goal is to take those names we've collected thus far and tag them as to their involvement, when they got involved and what programs they were involved in, like VRL,” Brock said. “Then as they get involved in other programs that we create for Miller, we'll continue to add information to the profiles of these users and be able to send out much more targeted utilities and values to them.”
Miller by and large has not tapped its online database for extensive marketing except in certain smaller messaging efforts to its target, men ages 21 to 25.
This year, registered players can expect to hear from the Milwaukee brewer before the end of the NASCAR season. Brock would not delve into the nature of the messaging but said the game was the linchpin of Miller's overall motor sports marketing program. Miller has been a NASCAR sponsor for more than 20 years.
The Miller Lite Virtual Racing League is designed to hold the racing fan's attention over time. This works better than short blasts from television, radio or print advertisements that do little to keep Miller Lite front and center of the racing fan.
Playing is simple. Consumers who register at millerlitevrl.com get a virtual car, which they can style with a custom paint job. With $800,000 in a virtual cash sponsorship, they can buy a crew chief, a driver and stock up on inventory like spoilers, gas and tires.
Codes on Miller Lite packaging and ads on TV and other media can be redeemed online for additional sponsorship money. The codes are also on banners and sent via e-mail to the players.
Besides on packaging, the game is promoted through banners and interstitials on ESPN.com, Playboy.com and Yahoo Sports. E-mails to their databases and Miller's also will drive traffic to the game.
Ad creative has the look and feel of the game, with fast-paced animation and race car sounds.
“We really found last year that our primary audience came in through online advertising, so we really wanted to focus our promotion there,” Brock said. “The media campaign is going to lighten up toward the end of the year because we find that we get most of our results at the beginning of the year.”
Miller used print, on- and off-premise and online advertising, plus packaging, to support the online game last year.
South African Breweries said last month it would buy Miller from Philip Morris Cos. for $3.6 billion in stock. The new company, called SABMiller, will be second only to Anheuser-Busch in annual beer sales. The effect on marketing strategy is not known at this time.
“I think the big challenge for Miller is getting people to continuously engage with marketing programs and get away from the sort of one-off TV spot,” Brock said. “They really wanted to have a marketing program that plays off each other and encourages consumers to interact with multiple points of messaging. And that's what VRL is focused on.”