Endorsements aplenty for Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick had a disappointing NASCAR Sprint Cup race debut at Daytona, finishing 38th. She hasn’t won a Nationwide Series event in 33 tries, with only one top-5 finish. And she didn’t exactly tear up the IndyCar Series, either, with one victory in 115 races.

Even so, she continues to be an extremely powerful marketing personality, trailing only legendary drivers Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and John Force in the name-recognition metric known as the Q Score.

That helps explain Thursday’s announcement that she would become the first female member of the Coca-Cola Racing Family. She also became the first member of that group to be associated with a sole brand: Coke Zero.

According to the Q Score Company, 76 percent of people in its annual poll were familiar with Patrick, much higher than the 48 percent average for all active and retired race car drivers. The figure is also a solid increase from the 69 percent of people who were familiar with her in last year’s poll.

Enough of those people ranked her as one of their favorites to earn her a positive Q Score of 19, again much higher than the average for all active and retired drivers, which is 13. Last year, her Q Score was even higher at 22, but the president of the Q Score Company, Henry Schafer, said that should not be much of a concern.

“Her growth in familiarity outpaced her appeal,” said Schafer, “hence the slightly lower Q Score this year. This is not a significant drop and still keeps her positive Q Score above average.”

Patrick also rates high among women athletes with at least a 40 percent awareness, behind only Shawn Johnson, Anna Kournikova, Kristi Yamaguchi, Peggy Fleming and Maria Sharapova.

Patrick has one thing those women don’t have, however: She’s part of a sport where fans are fiercely brand-loyal. According to a study by Taylor, 61 percent of NASCAR fans from ages 18 to 35 will buy a sponsor’s product if it is the same price as a competitor’s product. Fourteen percent would buy the sponsor’s product even if it were more expensive.

The combination of Patrick’s appeal and her being part of a sport in which fans in a key demographic are brand-loyal makes her a marketer’s dream.

“She’s an extremely appealing figure for Coke Zero because she basically represents everything the brand does,” said Sharon Byers, Coca-Cola’s senior vice president for sports and entertainment. “It’s one of our biggest growing brands. Her appeal to young adult men is the exact consumer base that we want to connect.”

Patrick, who will race in her second Sprint Cup Series race this weekend at the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, has already proved to be a successful spokeswoman in her well-known endorsement deal with GoDaddy.com. The Web domain registration company reported that within 15 minutes of its first Patrick ad during the 2011 Super Bowl, domain registrations jumped 466 percent over the previous year. This year, the company set a Sunday sales record and also broke its one-day mark for mobile website traffic following the airing of two Super Bowl commercials featuring Patrick.

Patrick’s other endorsement deals include Nationwide Insurance, Tissot, Chevrolet, Peak Antifreeze, William Rast clothing and Hot Wheels.