Formula E is a brand that has swept in and upped the stakes in motorsports. But where does this surge of popularity come from? What is drawing in spectators to Formula E? Why are manufacturers moving into this electric single seater series in droves – at the expense of other motorsports? And why do cities around the globe suddenly all want to host their own E-Prix? The answer is brand relevance.
I remember my first exposure to live motorsports as if it was yesterday. I was 12-years-old, standing at the circuit in Spa-Francorchamps seeing the cars arrive at incredible speed at the old Bus Stop Chicane; the overtaking, the action, the atmosphere, the tension – I probably didn’t understand half of what I was seeing, but I loved it.
As a Formula 1 fan from the word go, I was as skeptical as many other motorsports fans about Formula E when it emerged a couple of years ago. There were plenty of articles about the perceived “lack” of noise and the slower speeds, but once I realized that it made no sense to compare them, I started to love it!
How Formula E Masters Brand Relevance
Brand relevance is made up of 4 principles: customer obsession, pragmatism, inspiration and innovation. So how does Formula E fit into these?
Formula E’s city centre focus provides a unique setting that better accommodates the busy lives of today’s fans and opens up the experience to a broader audience – especially compared to other motorsports events. It is less confined in its choice of location, so circuits in both established and emerging motorsport nations allow a broader appeal and contradict the perception of ‘racing where the money is’.
Those aspects that were initially considered negative – less noise and slower speeds – are those that are now driving relevance for the brand. No longer limited to enthusiasts and hardcore fans, E-Prix is an activity that families can enjoy – and is much more affordable.
Formula E is pushing the boundaries of interactivity with the proximity between drivers and spectators. Tangible interactions both through the event itself and social media allows spectators to be as close to the drivers as possible. And unseen in other motorsports; spectators can directly influence the race with interactive elements such as ‘Fan Boost’, which allows fans to give additional horsepower to chosen drivers.
The philosophy that Formula E has built up is that the driver is the centre of the event. By standardizing many elements, such as a fixed budget for all teams and ensuring all cars use the same chassis, there is a stronger focus on the driver’s talent rather than on the team’s money. This is also reflected in the way the circuits are set up: street racing at its best, not a standardized, overly safe environment where leaving the track loses you time, but not the race.
In the end, Formula E has become more exciting to watch. There is no dominant team – in the 2018 season so far, there have been 4 different winners from 4 different teams in eight races.
Formula E continues to grow in relevance for spectators as it further enhances customer proximity, creates new ways of engagement and better fits in with people’s lives.
But what is the reason behind the hype among manufacturers? Independent teams like Abt are now creating manufacturer teams, and new entrants for next season were announced in droves, including the likes of Mercedes, Nissan, BMW, Porsche. Some brands are even leaving behind an impressive track record in other motorsport series just to focus on Formula E, with Porsche being the most prominent example after winning Le Mans for the last 3 seasons, but now opting to move away from endurance motorsports.
As a spokesperson from BMW commented: “Now in its 4th season, Formula E has come of age and overcome its teething troubles. The technology keeps evolving, and from 2019 onwards there won’t be a car change necessary due to the lack of battery performance. So while BMW did not want to be associated with an “imperfect” car that requires changing midway through the race, it has reconsidered its decisions with the newest developments and will form part of the ever growing grid.”
But the increasing appeal to spectators is only one reason for the manufacturer moves: they have seen that electric vehicles are becoming increasingly relevant for their own future too, as many cities and countries announce combustible bans and ambitious e-programs. Electric vehicles are predicted to be the future of the automotive industry and will only continue to become more innovative. The Gen-2 cars to be introduced next year bring futuristic designs that will test manufactures to see how far they can push e-mobility. And manufacturers are investing heavily, aware that it won’t be long before it could damage their brand image to be associated with fuel burning engines.
Why do cities around the globe suddenly all want to host their own E-Prix? Cost is undoubtedly a major factor, and hosting a Formula E event is very affordable compared to other motorsports events. In most cases, the event just requires a one-off circuit that’s built for purpose, so doesn’t require annual maintenance. Plus, FIA fees are a lot lower than in other series’.
The value aspect is both political and commercial: being held in the city centre, a city can profit more directly from fans travelling to the event than if it was held at a track outside of a city.
Even more important are the image benefits: it’s another building block in a city’s eco push, and added to building cycling paths, introducing eco taxes and diesel bans it helps to show how serious a city is about this topic.
So when it comes to boosting brand relevance, Formula E is a win-win-win situation for spectators, manufacturers and cities. Formula E is driving swiftly towards brand relevance.
Formula E is one of the many examples of the importance of brand relevance. Learn more about the four core pillars and Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index™.