“On the ground, we try to get prominent locations and allow the presence of the brand to create buzz throughout the event where people want to come check it out. When people see the activation, they tend to talk about it, take pictures, share, and then other people want to go see what’s going on. It kind of takes on a life of its own.”
— Michael Giardina, vp-marketing, mixable spirits, at William Grant & Sons
With Formula 1’s recent explosion in the U.S., thanks in large part to Netflix’s “Drive to Survive” documentary series, brands are jumping on to grand prix as sponsors and partnering with racing teams to engage a growing audience of motorsport fans. One of those brands is Hendrick’s Gin, having returned to activate at the Miami Grand Prix, May 5-7, after a first go-around at the inaugural race in 2022.
“We found it to be successful and a great event the first year. No one was really sure, I don’t think, how Formula 1 would work in the U.S.—who would go, what kind of crowd there would be. But it was a huge success, I think both for the sport and for the brand activations that were there, so we went back again,” says Michael Giardina, vp-marketing, mixable spirits, at William Grant & Sons. “The event of the grand prix is kind of an experience in and of itself, where it’s not just a race.”
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The Miami International Autodrome—a 3.36-mile course that weaves around Hard Rock Stadium, home to the Miami Dolphins—welcomed 270,000 spectators across the entire weekend, surpassing 2022’s event numbers by almost 30,000. And with the Florida heat already blazing, Hendrick’s, a campus partner, set up a three-story bar between two turns of the race track to serve up cocktails and help cool off the record number of fans. The drink menu at “The World’s Most Utterly Inefficient Cocktail Bar” included Hendrick’s Cucumber Lemonade, Skylight Delight and Flora Adora Strawberry Sundance. Attendees could watch their handcrafted cocktails be shaken, strained and poured from three stories high.
“Some nice, tall cocktails are always a good way to keep people refreshed and happy,” Giardina says. “We try to bring people into the world as much as we can, based on the environment we’re in, so instead of just serving a drink, we try to create those experiences for people. Sometimes they’re smaller, sometimes they’re bigger, just depending on the space, where we are and what’s going on.”
Hendrick’s trackside footprint was bustling with characters roaming on stilts, actors juggling cucumbers and fishing for roses from the bar’s higher levels, and attendees posing for pics on a specially branded motorcycle with a cucumber sidecar in front of a wall of greenery and roses. Creating Instagrammable photo ops for social media is “a hugely important” aspect of Hendrick’s strategy, Giardina says, as well as driving word-of-mouth buzz and FOMO around what’s going on over at the three-story bar.
“You never know what’s going to work. You kind of have a sense, but we always try to look at what is that social sharing moment?” he says. “We’re lucky that the Hendrick’s brand has this highly appealing visual world that lends itself to social content. The motorcycle usually is a big hit for pictures, so a lot of times, it’s simpler than you would imagine. We always try to create those shareable social moments to get the brand out there in an organic way.”
While Hendrick’s plans its events strategy for the whole year about a year in advance, the brand tailors its activations for each event appearance, whether it’s a Formula 1 race or music festival, taking location and space into consideration. A base experience format allows the team to swap features and add on elements, such as the motorbike photo op or a hot air balloon, without having to create a custom build for every event.
At this year’s Miami Grand Prix, Hendrick’s expanded its reach by decking out one of the elevated bridge walkways that get attendees over the race track with branded designs that matched the gin’s whimsical aesthetic. “The pathway to the unusual” led racegoers to the Hendrick’s bar, and while this component of the activation came together as a last-minute addition, Giardina is pleased with the buzz and traffic generated by the branded walkway and how it “upped” the overall experience.
“Our instinct is always: How do we make it bigger every year?” Giardina says. “We have to talk to F1 and see what else we can do. The bridge worked great. Is there another bigger thing? We’re talking about potentially even more immersive experiences. Can we go deeper and bring people even more into our world than we currently are? And that’s something we’re kicking around, not just for F1, but in general. When we do that, we usually create fans for life because it really is a special brand.” Agencies: Momentum Worldwide; M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment North America; Quaker City Mercantile; Dentsu.
Photo credit: Hendrick’s Gin