Formula 1 Finds a New Way to Advertise on Its Cars-News

When the concept of digital advertising for racing cars was pitched to McLaren, team officials worried it was just a myth.

Brands are already in the cars, but this new system allows teams to show additional advertising because they appear on panels on the edge of the cockpit and are visible to viewers at home thanks to a television camera placed behind the driver. The display changes, showing different advertising messages during the Grand Prix weekend.

When I saw the technology in action for the first time, Louise McEwenhead of brand and marketing at McLaren Racing, said he was “impressed.”

“I had to use a lot of ideas, because they were babies,” he said in response.

“But what was found was not only the opportunity that was the first, but as a brand, it was something that would confirm our desire to drive talent on the grid. It is in our DNA, the way Bruce McLaren started.”

The company behind the technology is Unobtrusive Digitalwhich is close to Silverstone, home of the British Grand Prix.

Having developed the technology at the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, in practice last year, McLaren is now using the system for the Grand Prix weekend. Seamless said four other Formula 1 teams will use it this season, although the company would not identify them.

Mark Turner, founder and CEO, said he “set out to try to create a system that would be robust and reliable.”

“What we didn’t want was something for the sake of being there,” he said in an interview. “It affects the performance, and this was always our opinion. It will not be detrimental to the strength of the aircraft or its weight.”

The original system weighed 350 grams, which was too heavy for a game where weight affects performance.

“No way,” said McEwen. “Mark knew that this was difficult, but he worked closely with our aerodynamics team, and in the end we got the weight down which we did well.”

It now weighs 190 grams and is 800 microns, eight points of a millimeter thin. “We are using an e-paper, like the external part of Kindle, integrated with TFT [thin-film transistor] helping it to change,” said Turner. “It helps us to match the aero shape.

“We’re still trying to keep the weight down because we want a smaller, lighter system that delivers value to teams.”

Although the system won first time in Texas, McLaren was cautious.

“In putting in technology like this, there was a risk that it could be seen as a gimmick and a distraction to the driver,” McEwen said.

Advertising messages can be edited in the system and shown to the audience on TV. Most people on the site can’t see the ads.

“Putting it on the driver’s side means it’s picked up on the overhead cameras, so that was key,” McEwen said.

“Last year we signed Google,” he said, the only brand to use McLaren’s new engine. “It’s a match made in heaven, with advertising switching between their Chrome and Android versions.”

Neither Seamless nor McLaren would say how much it would cost to use the system, although Google did not pay additional fees due to an existing agreement with McLaren.

Turner said Seamless will work with the team to determine who will appear at any given time.

“Right now what we’re pushing is based on the situation,” he said, where “you can have information about the situation of the car, whether it’s a pit stop or behind the safety car.”

The company hopes to expand the use of the technology, adding panels to golf bags, for example. “Hats are the most important thing we’re doing,” Turner said. “You think about all the different sports, and you think about the NFL”

For now, Formula 1 is the main focus. “We want to make sure that by using our system,” he said, “the team can bring in money and invest it in the production of cars.”

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