An American owner, an American in Woking and an American team on the grid. The Formula 1 series is peppered with Americans hither and thither but with new owners, Liberty Media, and McLaren’s new American marketing genius, Zak Brown, as well as the Haas F1 team, are there enough Americans to finally raise F1’s brand and appeal in the US? As a recent Forbes article points out, growing their digital market is a priority and the US could be a large market for that format.
According to McLaren’s Zak Brown, there certainly is room to grow in America and as one of, if not the, largest consumer markets in the world, it should be at the top of home-grown Liberty Media’s goals.
“We are a global championship,” Brown said. “And while we continue to go to new and emerging markets, which is great, at the end of the day North America is the wealthiest and largest sports market.
“We’ve got so much room for growth there. So while we should continue to expand and look at new and exciting territories, we’ve got to become bigger in North America.
“There are so many people there, there’s so much television, and there’s so much economics there. It’s such a great sports market. I think F1 can be huge there over time.”
There is an intrinsically American approach to racing that is usually centered around oval track appeal as that has been the racing format most heavily marketed and promoted for the last 50 years. Road course racing’s halcyon days in America were the late 1960’s through the late 70’s.
In those heady days, there was a different generation, different culture and a post-war love affair with the European sports car that simply doesn’t exist today but that’s not to say there can’t be a new appeal to F1 that may attract Generation Y and perhaps more importantly, Generation Z.
This isn’t a critical assessment of Gen Y, each generation moves to its own interests and cultural rhythm but Gen Z seems to be showing signs of Gen X’s love of cars and mobility, arguably, more so than its predecessor. Building a brand and appeal in the US will be open to all who show interest, for sure, but Liberty Media may find a slightly more receptive audience in Gen Z and Gen Alpha than trying to appeal to Gen Y’s established idioms and forays.
Are there Gen Y racing rans? Of course there are, and they love the sport as much as any generation prior but as Brown points out, it’s economics and multipliers that are crucial to any marketing initiative. Simple impacts on a generation like the economy are big indices that must be factored in F1’s approach to the US. With 80 million Gen Y’s in the US, they may constitute far fewer race fans than their predecessor who are half their size.
Gen Y grew up in a robust economy while Gen Z is growing up in a time of recession, terrorism, violence, volatility and complex issues. Gen Z is less likely to engage in social media that tracks their digital impression and more likely to embrace driving earlier as mobility is important to them. Gen Y grew up in malls while Gen Z prefers online shopping. Gen Y watched YouTube, Hulu while Gen Z prefers live streaming and co-content creation.
Gen Z will be more likely to face multigenerational households and marriages and plan to start working earlier. Gen Z will be more keen to cope with reality instead of retreating and seeking virtual reality. Gen Y spent money boldly while Gen Z prefers to save it.
The average allowance for a Gen Z is $16.90/week and this represents a $44 billion market but while Gen Y is larger, they weren’t as influential on household purchases as Gen Z are. Gen Z are more influential on dinner menus, family car selection and vacation spots than their predecessors.
A catalyst to the economics multiplier that Brown spoke of could be that three out of four Gen Z’s say they wish their current hobby could be their full-time job. A far greater response than Gen Y to the same question.
It’s not that simple
I’m not advocating that Gen Z is the savior of F1 in America and that Gen Y are hopeless cases of anti-F1 fodder. Gen Y has a strong component of motorsport fans in the US but mathematically, with 80 million of them, the math is helped by the sheer size and attrition of the generation itself. They mirror their parents in size and had the birthrate not gone down, they would have been the largest generation ever.
As we look across F1’s appeal in the US and even the world, it is facing many of the same issues that American sports are facing. Waning viewer numbers and sponsor investments. I won’t suggest this is the definitive answer but there are generational studies on behavior that could answer some of the questions over their fickle nature toward traditional media, sports and programming.
Measuring attention spans of typical generations is an interesting exercise and Gen Y, in aggregate, has a slightly longer attention span than Gen Z which is measured at 8 seconds with 11% of them diagnosed with ADHD. Is that a factor? To some marketers it is but I might argue a different alternative that could play well into Liberty’s approach.
It may seem that Gen Z’s 8-second attention span is a challenge for marketers but for a generation that uses video like Gen Y used texts, and a generation that’s never known an analog world, they are actually very cunning navigators and curators of the information they want. Immensely talented at harvesting, curating and digesting content. Here’s why.
The world has become comprehensively noisy. The internet is, let’s be honest, complete white noise. Gen Z have become much more adept at curating this consistent flow of white noise into meaningful data and they do it really quickly. No mystery here but for Gen Y marketing approaches, content was king. For Gen Z, it is relevancy and contextualized native experiences that transcend the traditional first, second and third screen nomenclature. For Gen Z, all screens are equal and all deliver moments or micro-moments of attention.
Gen Z is not choosing mobile first, they are choosing mobile only. The level of consumption via mobile devices in Gen Z are far greater than Gen Y was and contextually, they look for relevancy and interesting content with rapid precision. They eschew any traditional approaches to marketing as an annoyance and Liberty Media would do well to focus on the fact that Gen Z is much more responsive to earned media than paid media. Recent elections in the US show how a successful candidate used very little paid media and gained wide-spread press coverage through earned media approaches.
Gen Z is less likely to respond to an attempt of F1 to market to their block or homogenous group. They are, like their parents, focused on the individual and the native experience that is relevant and contextual to their everyday life. This means that F1’s marketing approach in the US will need to be granular in approach and create leverage in Gen Z’s authenticity without shoving their brand into places it doesn’t fit or belong.
Legacy marketing fail
As the owner of a successful website and podcast, I can safely say that the traditional approach to marketing, ad buys and website monetization is, quite honestly, a joke. It has been a mark way overstepped. It’s given rise to sponsored content due to the intrusive and offensive ads littered around the internet via Google Ads and a multitude of me-too companies. With over 50% of Gen Z likely to use ad-blockers, the marketing world is clamoring for a new approach and there are areas of success but F1 will find it difficult to engage in sponsored content in the US. Their orbital sponsors may have an easier time of it.
What consumers value most
F1 may find more fertile ground if they realize that big gains are not made through technology innovation per se, rather by linking those innovations to the elements that their consumers value most.
In order to do this, you have to build relationships and most companies lack the patience or time to invest in building those relationships. The 1960’s was an authentic love and appeal to F1 in the US and it was a native experience that was organically grown. No company—and certainly not F1—exploited that era and marketed the cultural wave for all it was worth. Liberty Media will need to engage relevant, contextually native content for mobility using location and purchase data to tailor the appeal of F1 in the US.
It would be difficult to suggest that the magic number for relevant, contextually native and moment marketing attempts should be anchored to the 8-second rule for attention spans but in reality, if Liberty Media can’t tell the F1 story to Gen Z inside of 8-seconds, then the brand will struggle gaining a seat at the relevancy table of these wickedly efficient curators of information.
This isn’t to suggest that there is no room for the long-form content in a world of 8 seconds. We’re creators of the long-form message at our website, podcasts and even this article. Verbose? Possibly but we’re not trying to be seeker-sensitive in our approach and I feel strongly that once hooked, the new F1 fan very much desires the long-form of contextually relevant information.
It makes little sense for Liberty Media to continue pulling at the threads of F1’s legacy marketing approach. It would be far better for Liberty to unpack a brand new garment for Gen Z and Gen Alpha.