Tuesday and Wednesday of last week were like any other day for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his best friends. They rode four-wheelers, played pool, fired paintballs and raced go-karts, all on his 300 rolling acres in Mooresville, N.C.
The only evidence that Earnhardt was shooting a commercial for his Hendrick Motorsports sponsor, Amp Energy Drink, was the presence of a few cameras and the shouts of an award-winning director. And a few more people were watching, including executives from PepsiCo, Amp's parent company.
“Basically, we were just out here raising hell and they were filming it,” Earnhardt said from his property. “It was pretty fun. We kind of forgot that there were cameras around.”
The idea behind the next Amp commercial, which breaks Feb. 15 on Fox for the Daytona 500, was to uncover the real Earnhardt, the boy in a man's body who has transformed his property 30 miles north of Charlotte into a grown man's Disney. There, he cut up with pals like Topher (short for Christopher), T.J. and Josh, most of whom he has known since childhood.
The idea to shoot NASCAR's most elite pitchman in his natural surroundings was Earnhardt's. He hatched the concept in a meeting with PepsiCo executives and Amp's ad agency, BBDO, New York, all of whom met the driver at his place before Christmas.
PepsiCo and BBDO wanted the commercial to have a documentary feel to it, so once the groundwork was set, they reached out to director Stacy Peralta. His credits include “Dogtown and Z-Boys,” a skateboarding movie that won Sundance Film Festival awards in 2001, and “Riding Giants,” a big-wave surfing film, as well as the Burger King “Whopper Virgins” campaign. Peralta's documentaries had the kind of lifestyle feel that Amp wanted for this commercial.
Lauren Hobart, vice president of marketing for PepsiCo's energy drink brands, said Earnhardt's input was critical to get the behind-the-scenes footage necessary and that she'd never seen an athlete so immersed in the creative process. Footage that doesn't make the commercial will run on Ampenergy.com as a means of driving traffic for a promotion and new product launches.
“I really think we're breaking new ground in terms of how much a part of the creative process Dale has been,” Hobart said. “I can't think of an example in the marketplace where an athlete has had so much influence over what's being shot. … He's all about being real and authentic, and he wanted to show fans how much Amp -- his words -- has become a part of his lifestyle.”
Creating an authentic image has been integral to the development of the Dale Jr. brand. He worked with his apparel sponsor, Adidas, to develop a line of Dale Jr. clothing last year that incorporated his design ideas, and he made suggestions throughout the shooting of his first commercial with Amp in 2008, when he infamously carried a camel across the desert.