NASCAR Wire Service distributed by The Sports Xchange
Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn't remember exactly where or when he shot his first commercial for a NASCAR sponsor, but he does remember how he felt about it.
"When I first started, I was really, really nervous," Earnhardt said recently, after wrapping up a commercial shoot that will introduce Nationwide Insurance's new campaign to viewers of the July 28 Indy 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the first time the NASCAR Nationwide Series will compete on the vaunted 2.5-mile track.
Earnhardt is anything but nervous now. In fact, he's the consummate professional, working through more than 15 takes of a 30-second introductory spot called "Invitation," shot at Charlotte Motor Speedway with Matt Jauchius, Nationwide's chief marketing and strategy officer.
It helps that the production crew is full of familiar faces.
"After a couple of years, I realized that the same companies used the same directors and same production company and group, so every time we shoot a Nationwide commercial, it's the same group, and I get this rapport with those people and get real comfortable around 'em," Earnhardt told the NASCAR Wire Service.
"They do a good job of making you feel like you're doing a good job and making you feel comfortable. If it weren't the same people every year, then I'd be nervous -- I'm shy anyways, and I'm real nervous around people I don't know."
Earnhardt may consider himself shy, but he's also authentic, and that's what registers with the focus groups that screen the Nationwide ads.
"We do all kinds of analytical tests, scientific tests and surveys and focus groups," Jauchius said. "What you and I see here -- this authenticity -- it's absolutely what tests when we do all or our professional tests.
"It's just him. What you see is what you get. That authenticity is the critical part of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s brand. That's part of the Nationwide Insurance brand, and that's why it works so well for us both."
The 30-second spot featuring Earnhardt and Jauchius is part of a broader "Join the Nation" campaign that will succeed the "World's Greatest Spokesperson" campaign, starting with NBC's broadcast of the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Summer Olympics. The campaign's over-arching spot, titled "Anthem," is voiced by actress Julia Roberts.
The campaign underlines Nationwide's status as a mutual company, and promotes the concept of customers as members. In addition to Earnhardt, Danica Patrick and father-and-son NASCAR Sprint Cup champions Ned and Dale Jarrett are featured in the commercials.
"Having Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick as our partners gives us a chance to showcase what we're all about, hopefully in a manner that's consistent with their brands," Jauchius said. "Those are the two biggest stars in the sport. They are charismatic. ... Danica is also authentic and genuine. You get a personality from her that's a fiery competitor, and we like that.
"If you see the ads, we allow her personality to come through, and we allow Dale's to come through, which makes them natural and comfortable. ... Our challenge is just to get that chemistry to show on camera, because it's very real, and that's exactly what we go for, to let their personalities shine through."