This time a year ago, Ask.com was preparing to make the splash of the season at Daytona. It had a custom-made motor coach, pretty girls dressed in red and white to act as Ask Ambassadors throughout the speedway, and up to 30 new 15-second ad spots.
The eager search engine had seemingly thought of everything for its first year of an official partnership with NASCAR and a team sponsorship at Hall of Fame Racing.
But as the industry rolls into Daytona this week for the start of the 2010 season, the major question will be: What happened to Ask.com?
Despite trumpeting successful results from its sponsorships and advertising in NASCAR last year, the Barry Diller-owned company opted not to return this year, allowing its NASCAR partnership and team deal to expire after one year. A change in leadership — CEO Jim Safka did the NASCAR deals last year but was replaced by president Doug Leeds in October — led to changes in marketing.
Ask spent about $15 million on its NASCAR sponsorships and activation last year, industry insiders said. Its official deal with NASCAR was in the low seven figures, while the team sponsorship cost Ask $4 million.
“We had a great year last year, but for 2010, we've undergone a strategy change,” said Jared Cluff, senior vice president of marketing. “We're working pretty heavily on the website right now, so our marketing this year will be toward the latter half of the year.”
The majority of NASCAR sponsors whose deals were up last year renewed, including Dodge, Unilever, DuPont, DirecTV, Kraft, and Procter & Gamble brands Gillette, Old Spice and Prilosec OTC.
NASCAR also added Screenvision and Drive4COPD as new partners, with Screenvision being the official cinema ad agency and Drive4COPD, a group that drives awareness and screening for lung disease, serving as the official health initiative.
DirecTV's renewal is accompanied by a new HotPass product for 2010 that is expected to remain free but come with a new consumer promotion that will be announced this week in Daytona.