Why are B2B brands taking over Formula 1 racing?


21st November 2023

B2B brands make up almost half of F1’s official sponsors – what does it tell us about their spending power, goals and marketing strategy?

In the high-stakes, adrenaline-ridden world of Formula 1 racing, B2B brands like Salesforce, AWS and Cognizant seem to have made an unlikely home for themselves.

B2B sponsorships of the competition organisers and its teams are all the rage. Of the 299 brand partnerships for the F1’s 2022 season, 135 of them involved B2B brands, with a further 19 involving brands both B2C and B2B-facing.

So what makes the high-drama, high-excitement world of F1 such an appealing shop window for B2B brands?

The fast-growing show

First off, the most obvious appeal for sponsors: Formula 1 generates a lot of interest.

Though the sport has been around for decades, global viewership has exploded in recent years. The competition has undergone a dramatic rebrand, modernising in pursuit of a younger audience.

Leveraging the sport’s stars to produce click-friendly online content has helped F1 become one of the fastest growing sports competitions on social media, and that’s been accelerated by the popular documentary series Drive to Survive. Allowing Netflix’s cameras fly-on-the-wall access to the sport’s biggest teams, drivers and personalities has been widely credited with helping F1 find a new audience in the all-important American market.

All of these marketing and PR pushes have added up to massive global audience. The 2021 season drew in a cumulative TV audience of 1.55bn, including 109 million viewers for the dramatic final race of the year. If you’re a potential sponsor, that’s a lot of eyeballs.

A B2B marketing hotspot

But that’s not really the full story when it comes to B2B brands and F1.

Traditionally, B2B brands have been more at home sponsoring (unsurprisingly) more business-orientated events. Trade shows, industry conferences and webinars represent sponsorship opportunities that target hyper-segmented audiences and offer ample opportunities for networking and deal-making with key decision-makers.

The mass appeal of F1 may not offer that same surgical precision, but the glamour and prestige of the sport means there are networking opportunities aplenty.

Chief among them is the ‘Paddock Club’, where sponsors are encouraged to invite along corporate bigwigs to get up-close and personal with teams preparing their cars and, in the F1 website’s words, ‘spend the weekend side by side with the most innovative companies on the planet’.

The offer of access to team owners, drivers, industry leaders and other sponsors means F1 unlocks potential partnerships, collaborations and sales for B2B brands.

More than VIP hospitality packages though, F1 offers B2B brands a unique platform to show-off their capabilities. Partnering with an F1 team doesn’t just mean slapping your brand on the car – it can also mean contributing towards building a 200 mph winning-machine. 

Driving winning partnerships

There’s a certain amount of reflected glory that comes from partnering with an F1 team –associating your brand image with speed, precision and skill is never a bad thing. But for B2B brands, F1 partnerships offer the chance to demonstrate that their product or service really is the best of the best.

A major sponsor of the completion is DHL, the global logistics company. As the official logistics partner for F1, DHL is responsible for transporting equipment, cars and fuel for each racing team to each race location around the world, often with less than a week to do so. By showing it can seamlessly pull off a mammoth logistical operation, DHL demonstrates its credentials to the world each week.

It also represents a particular opportunity for software and IT companies, which is the most heavily featured industry which features on F1’s list of partners. Tech companies Oracle and Congizant have respectively paid the Red Bull and Aston Martin teams – or, to give them their full titles, Oracle Red Bull Racing and Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant – hundreds of millions of dollars to have their brands included in the team name, but their partnerships go further.

Both brands provide their partners with computing power and data analytics that heavily impact performance. The software and tools they provide can make a real difference to results by enabling teams to take make-or-break decisions based on real time insights on crucial details like tyre temperature or car-part wear, as well as run super-accurate simulations to help inform strategy in the build-up to race day.

Another example would be Additive Industries’ partnership with the Alfa Romeo F1 team. Additive Industries is a world leader in industrial additive manufacturing solutions and agreed to supply its 3D metal printers to enable the team to print crucial car parts. By partnering with Alfa Romeo, Additive Industries didn’t just get its name on the side of a vehicle – it got to put a Formula 1 race car at the heart of its own promotional campaign, accompanied by the simple tagline ‘Our CV’.

How many of its rivals can say that?

A new B2B marketing model?

Once upon a time, the B2B approach to marketing was guided by the belief that business owners and decision-makers only responded to marketing that spoke to their balance sheets.  The growing number of B2B sponsors enjoying huge success with F1 partnerships shows just how far our industry has come.

B2B brands (and marketers!) now appreciate that B2B and B2C aren’t so different; businesses are made up of people, after all. And it’s people who will engage with an ad at work as much as they would when they’re on the tube, reading a magazine or watching sport on TV. It all depends on the quality of the marketing.

F1 provides high profile partnership opportunities for bold B2B brands. Niche businesses like Additive Industries can use F1 to showcase their products’ performance in the most exciting way imaginable. F1, with its drama and competition, turns heads and captures the imagination – making brands more memorable. Where could your brand appear? Maybe not at Silverstone, but with over 30 years experience in B2B branding, marketing and PR we’re sure to find something for you. Get in touch to find out more.

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