M&M's will be monitoring two races this season - the one involving its driver Kyle Busch in the #18 Toyota, and the one to identify NASCAR's most colorful fan.

The Mars brand will kick off its second "Most Colourful Fan of NASCAR" promotion Feb. 15, the day of the Daytona 500, but the 2009 version will have many more tentacles, including a presence on NASCAR.com and social-networking sites. The campaign will run 28 weeks, 10 weeks longer than last year's version.

"We're trying to go where the fans are, play where the people play," said Ryan Bowling, Mars' manager of public relations and marketing. "Instead of trying to drive people to a racing site, we're going where they are every day, like Facebook and Twitter."

The promotion's home will be on NASCAR.com, where a link will take fans to the contest. There, they'll be able to upload race-related photos of themselves, and viewers will vote each week for the most colorful fan. The weekly winners will enter a playoff, where the ultimate most colorful fan will be crowned. Mars is tinkering with the idea of creating its own Chase from that playoff model.

M&M's also will use behind-the-scenes video of Busch and crew chief Steve Addington on Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as YouTube.

Taping began last week with Busch and Addington at the Joe Gibbs Racing shop and will continue throughout the season.

The team and M&M's are also talking about live updates from the track that could be posted on social-networking sites to keep fans engaged with Busch and the brand throughout a race.

At the race venues, Mars will send M&M's ambassadors - most likely employees from its agency, Weber Shandwick - to engage fans and bring the M&M's program to life, Bowling said. The brand also is working with G2, a Web-oriented marketing agency, and Fanscape, a digital engagement agency.

"What Mars is doing is a great way for them to gauge what the mood is around their brand and around the sport," said Dave Alpern, vice president of marketing at Joe Gibbs Racing. "You look at our drivers like a Kyle Busch (age 23) or a Joey Logano (18), their lifestyle is such that they're on Facebook, they're on Twitter, they're constantly texting. Sponsors are being savvy and understanding that the fan base got a lot younger with these drivers and they've got to stay with the times. Social networking is how they're looking to communicate with the fans."

"With all of the tools that we have online now," Bowling said, "we can all be creators, we're all members of the media. Video is simply the most attractive delivery method."

Though specifics were not available, the budget for the M&M's racing programme in 2009 essentially stayed flat with 2008, but Bowling said they found ways to enhance the campaign online because "so many of the tools and resources online don't cost anything. You're able to hit a lot more markets this way. It's also challenging because there's so much news from so many different sources now."

Additionally, M&M's will use Busch in its "Inner M" advertising campaign throughout the year.
by Michael Smith

Michael Smith is a reporter with SportsBusiness Journal.