Off the tracks, Mercedes and Ferrari still win big in Netflix’s F1 series

Earlier this month, Netflix launched a 10-part documentary series titled Formula 1: Drive to Survive ahead of the Australian Grand Prix which caused the internet to be abuzz with chatter about the sport and the various F1 racing teams. This included the likes of Red Bull, Renault, Haas, McLaren and Sauber.

Heineken, one of the F1 sponsors, told audiences at an Advertising Week Europe panel that the documentary was "phenomenally successfully" and the story was "compelling" enough to engage fans who are less staunch about the sport, reported Reuters.

F1 fans, however, might notice the glaring absence of F1 powerhouses Mercedes and Ferrari - baring the snippets of mention. According to multiple media reports, Mercedes had taken a page out of Ferrari's book and decided not to participate in Formula 1: Drive to Survive. Media reports added that Toto Wolff, Mercedes' team principal, said participating in the documentary "was a big distraction".

Despite not participating in the documentary, statistics from Meltwater for the dates 18 February to 21 March 2019 showed that Ferrari (28%) and Mercedes (26%) still led the pack in terms of share of voice, amassing more than half of the social mentions between themselves.

Meanwhile, Renault (14%) and Red Bull (13%) also garnered a significant share of voice. Social traffic for both teams consistently topped the other teams on 24 February, 8 March, 10 March and between 18 to 20 March. It also peaked between 14 to 16 March, along with Renault and Red Bull. The dates, which cover both pre and post launch of the show, also indicated that overall 59.6% of the mentions of the show were positive, while 14.6% were negative.

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In terms of absolute numbers, Meltwater's statistics showed that Ferrari and Mercedes have the most positive mentions, followed closely by Renault and Red Bull.

Haas and McLaren also showed a significant positive sentiment with McLaren’s positive mentions significantly outweighing the negative mentions, ranking higher in terms of positive sentiment percentage when compared to brands like Ferrari and Mercedes.

Among the list of key conversation topics gathered by Digimind include "daniel ricciardo", "ausgp", "ferrari", "drivetosurvive" and "netflix". The list of trending emojis also included a smiley face with heart eyes, an F1 car, popcorn, as well as the Australian and chequered race flags.

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While it is still early to gather valuations specific to these F1 brands as a result of the new F1 documentary, Brand Finance's managing director Richard Haigh said:
The direct impact upon small lesser known brands as a result of such high-profile shows is always going to serve up an immediate boost.

This is especially with the kinds of "jaw-dropping viewing figures" that Netflix has attracted, he said. "Through Netflix’s furious promotion of the 10-part series, it is not only the brands involved that stand to gain but also the F1 sporting community as a whole," Haigh added.

Will Ferrari and Mercedes lose steam?

While some might wonder if Ferrari and Mercedes have lost out by opting out of Formula 1: Drive to Survive, the statistics clearly show otherwise. Nick Foley, Landor's president Southeast Asia Pacific and Japan said both Ferrari and Mercedes have strong top of mind brand awareness, adding that both manufacturers are acutely aware of their respective brand's strength and felt there would be little risk in giving the documentary a miss. He added:
Ironically, sitting it out may result in a bizarre halo impact on the two brands due to various media commentators being curious about Mercedes' and Ferrari’s lack of participation.

According to Foley, behind the scenes coverage of popular sports is always a crowd pleaser with fans, and F1 is primed for such documentaries owing to the brands associated with the sport. Also, professional motor sport racing is highly technical and does not only focus on the driver. Compared to a sport such as tennis, F1 has many more dimensions to it, Foley said.

"Sure, the fans love getting the gossip on Lewis Hamilton, but they also want to know all the details about the car, the Mercedes pit team and the team manager. I think Netflix’s new show will be a hit with motor racing fans," he added.

Meanwhile, Dominic Mason, Southeast Asia managing director of Sedgwick Richardson said the Formula 1: Drive to Survive documentary appeals to the fly-on-the-wall, heat of the action experience of content consumption that today’s audiences seek. He said:
It is authentic, high-octane stuff which will resonate with existing hard core fans.

"But the human narratives might pique the interest of non-petrol heads, perhaps a younger and female audience who may not be into the race or the technology itself," Mason said. However, he added that both Ferrari and Mercedes might risk losing die hard F1 fans who feel betrayed by their absence because "the F1 brand is nothing without the fans".

At the end of the day, however, sponsors still stand to benefit from this documentary. According to Mason, they can seize this opportunity to raise their brand awareness globally and fuel their brands with authentic action from the heart of F1.

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