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Danica Patrick moves in a new direction with sponsors

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – The probing questions about her personal life were being hurled with the alacrity of a gossip-hungry paparazzi but the innocence of a cub reporter for People.

What’s your favorite ice cream, topping and tropical fruit? Who are your friends? What do you like doing the most?

Danica Patrick didn’t mind.

Many of the everyday details of auto racing’s most famous female driver are being promoted and provided by design these days.

And such inquisitions are much easier when being conducted by a group of a few dozen grade-school children, who comprise the Rookie Racers Club at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“These events are always great when it’s just the kids, because they don’t really want anything other than to ask what your favorite color is,” Patrick told NASCAR Talk with a laugh last Saturday. “Those are not the most common questions that I get, so as simple as the questions are …. I just feel like they’re real pure.”

Simple and pure is part of the direction that Patrick is hoping to go this year with her appealing and popular brand, which benefited from the exposure of a record 13 Super Bowl commercials with Go Daddy, her primary sponsor in IndyCar and NASCAR for several years.

While the advertising elevated Patrick’s profile, it was commissioned through the prism of an Internet domain provider that made pushing the envelope into an art form. As a spokeswoman, Patrick was the (oft-unwitting) featured hook in campaigns that reveled in the risqué and controversial. The last Super Bowl commercial scheduled with Patrick was scrubbed after drawing the ire of animal rights activists for a storyline involving a puppy sold on the Internet and shipped away.

It’s a discernible contrast with a new approach (and new primary sponsor) in 2016 for Patrick, whose dogs frequently are the stars of her social media postings.

The public’s exposure to the Stewart-Haas Racing driver will be driven less by corporate marketing and more by just Danica basking in the unglamorous glory of everyday existence – which Patrick sees as the natural endgame to star-driven advertising in the 21st century.

“With the amount of media and social media, people are learning to read through and see what’s real and not real,” she said. “We post things on social media. We’re on TV a lot. They can film us anywhere we go with their phones. They know what we’re really like and really doing in our activities and what we consume and enjoy.

“Everything we do is going to be a collaboration to highlight that and bring out the best in me to authenticate the relationship.”

It’s evident in the redesign of her website that launched last week in the blue and white colors of Nature’s Bakery, whose fig bar brand will adorn Patrick’s No. 10 Chevrolet in 28 of 36 races this season.

The home page features several lifestyle photos of Patrick that range from hiking a mountain to cooking with a professional chef to attending a Chicago Blackhawks game. Her racing career seems ancillary, echoing the message of her Twitter bio: “If you want to get to know me away from the track, you’re in the right place.”

That seems to be the overall mission statement for Patrick’s brand – and even if the tradeoff is the exposure of a Super Bowl spot, she appreciates the more personalized focus that her sponsors are offering.

“It fits really well,” she said. “I feel like my partners are doing a great job of seeing what I’m into (and) using me in ways that are really authentic.

“It always resonates really well when people know that those are all things that are just what I’m like, and the things that I do.”

The most recent example was a commercial by sponsor TaxAct (a primary sponsor for four races this year) that features Patrick doing yoga and playing with her dogs, Dallas and Ella.

After making a successful debut during the New Year’s Day bowl games, TaxAct (which is pushing a Race to Your Refund Sweepstakes geared toward the April 15 filing deadline) purchased three more slots during the Seahawks-Vikings NFL playoff game last Sunday.

Patrick realized the commercial was gaining traction while on the deck of a boat in the Bahamas on vacation. A friend emerged from inside to ask, ‘Was that your commercial on TV just now?’

“I was really excited to hear they were running it during bowl games,” she said. “That’s awesome. I love when a partner jumps in with both feet like that. Last year was more of a tester and they were just involved on a very small level, but it worked so well they did more last year than they were going to do, and obviously they were committed for this year and had big plans.”

Patrick has grand aspirations, too. A former winner on Chopped, she recently met with the Food Network about becoming a regular guest on the channel.

“I told them I want to go dip my toe into a bunch of different ways and different shows,” she said. “I’d love to have a show some day, but I want to make sure I do it really well.”