How will on-car digital displays impact Formula 1 sponsorship?

In Summary

  • McLaren has unveiled a new digital asset on its Formula 1 car
  • The asset has come out of a partnership with British-based technology company Seamless Digital
  • The technology allows the team to switch creative during a race, creating increased flexibility and monetisation opportunities

Formula 1 is always innovating and this weekend’s US Grand Prix in Austin was no exception as two cars featured a new kind of sponsorship asset.

For F1 regulars and new viewers alike, the change may have been hard to spot. Simple black-and-white logos sitting either side of the two McLaren cockpits, neither the assets themselves nor their placement were particularly unusual.

But the technology behind them was.

Working with British-based tech company Seamless Digital, McLaren have replaced the stickers that were previously used in these spots with digital display units that can dynamically change the brand advertised in them during a race.

It’s a new world for F1, where mid-race logo changes are (for obvious reasons) impossible and the smallest weight change or aerodynamic inconsistency can be the difference between coming first or second. But Seamless and McLaren have found a novel solution.

Using a paper-like display similar to that pioneered by Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, the asset is thin enough to slip seamlessly onto the car, just as a sticker promo would, and light enough to add little extra weight (only around 190 grams, according to reports).

As you can see from the image below, seamless is definitely the right word.

New McLaren Sponsorship Asset - Formula 1
Photo: McLaren

How will the displays be used?

The US GP was the first time the displays have appeared and they’re still very much in their infancy, but the possibilities are vast – for both F1 and other sports beyond it.

The first and most obvious benefit is the ability to dynamically change the advertising displayed during a race. This asset area is most often seen from the on-board camera, which is typically used during key qualifying laps, battles for position, pit stops and replays of major incidents. In other words, moments where audience attention is at its highest.

Previously, McLaren could sell this important space to one brand only, but thanks to the display’s flexibility, they can now sell it to as many as they like.

Timing is another key issue, with the technology providing partners with the ability to be more contextual. Perhaps a tyre company could appear during a pit stop, or an audio-visual brand could be seen during a replay. If there’s a red flag or safety car, when audience attention is much lower, brands may be able to adapt or turn off their advertising, waiting instead for a moment of higher interest.

Seamless Digital Founder and CEO Mark Turner said, “We are delighted to be able to unveil this technology which represents the next step in the future of motorsport marketing. Being able to change branding in real-time on a Formula 1 car will give greater flexibility and value to teams and partners. Our technology enables more creative options for brands to communicate situationally relevant messages.”

Turner added that Seamless are already targeting other sports and, as part of the deal, McLaren will be able to use the technology across other motorsports it’s involved in, including INDYCAR and Extreme E.

Will the displays succeed?

The technology has already undergone all the tests necessary for its inclusion on a car, so we can only assume that it works as expected. However, doubts must remain as to value and performance.

How, for example, does the display work under the heavy stress of a race? If it’s hit by loose debris and damaged, will the entire display stop working? Even if it works perfectly under duress, are there external conditions that affect visibility? Would rain distort the display or bright sunlight add glare?

Sunday’s race gave us some early indicators. Taking the below tweet from McLaren’s official feed as an example, it’s difficult to see the logo when it’s under direct sunlight. The shadow from the overhead halo brings a portion into sight, but the contrast between the two does little to help visibility.

There may also be concerns about the difference between this new asset and stickers. While clearly visible, there’s a definite digital fuzziness to the Android logo in the shot below compared to the crisp clarity of the CNBC logo behind it.

What’s next?

All that said, these issues are minor when compared to the overall flexibility the displays offer F1 partners. As with any commercial asset, brand creative will be key to achieving more visibility, as will continued innovation and improvements in the tech itself.

Indeed, such innovation is a given, and already there’s talk of full-colour displays and assets that wrap around driver helmets. Both would be game-changers to this already game-changing technology.

For the here and now though, this is a vital development for a sport where the most important innovation tends to take place within the car, rather than on the side of it. Further tests will be performed in the remaining three races of the season, and we – along with the rest of the sporting world – will be watching on with interest.

To learn more about emerging sponsorship technology or how DataPOWA can help you grow your sponsorship offering, get in touch with us at [email protected].