These companies have historic ties that go way beyond a contractual relationship. They form a true alliance and their products are intricately linked.
Few alliances in sport are as iconic as the one between Ferrari and Shell. Their collaboration roared to life in the 1930s on the F1 racetrack, but the ties that bind run far deeper than that.
In 1952, the Shell-powered 500 F2 was the best car in the race. Ferrari went on to win 14 consecutive races—a record that has never been broken since. In all, the oil giant and the racing team won 15 World Drivers’ Championships and 16 World Constructors’ Championships.
The relationship between these two brands deserves a closer look for several reasons. It drives the development and creation of high-performance products. It gives Shell the chance to stand out in a category that doesn’t have a lot of differentiation. And it generates useful and stimulating content to promote a product that doesn’t typically trigger much interest. In addition to the financial support of this partnership, Ferrari also benefits from recognition and R&D, and from the product placement of its GT models in some Shell ads—which is, in itself, kind of exceptional, as Ferrari doesn’t do any advertising of its own for its cars.
In 2015, Shell and Ferrari renewed their historic F1 partnership for five years. The oil company will continue to supply Ferrari with fuel and lubricants (V-Power and Helix Ultra) as well as 50 full-time technicians—the equivalent of 21,000 hours of manpower a year. Outside of the F1 circuit, Shell will supply products to the Ferrari GT teams as part of the FIA World Endurance Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Aside from the “classic sponsorship” aspects of their relationship—Shell spends several million dollars to place its logo on the car and on the team’s equipment—the two companies have developed a true partnership of innovation that enables them to shave off the thousands of a second required to make it to the podium. Shell uses the F1 as a testing ground for its mass products: the products that have proven themselves in the extreme conditions of a race are then launched in the market to supply drivers from around the world with top-notch fuel and lubricants, reinforcing Shell’s credibility as an innovative brand.
With this sponsorship, the oil company is successfully conveying the message that 99% of their fuel available in gas stations is the same as that used by the Ferrari team on the racetrack. They have been telling this story in different ways for years now. They’ve shown a Shell plane getting refuelled by an F1 car going full-speed in the Mojave Desert. They’ve invited an F1 driver to pay a surprise visit to Shell service stations. They’ve even had a pit crew service an ordinary car getting a fill-up at a local gas station. On Shell’s website, you can now do a 3D visit of Ferrari’s F1 garage—where you’ll also find a space reserved for Shell engineers.
Thanks to its partnership with the Italian car manufacturer, Shell is perceived as a company at the leading edge of technology. This image gives Shell a clear business advantage because of the consumer appetite for innovation. A case in point: Shell did a great job of promoting its high-specification V-Power fuels and creating a unique brand image in a way that set this commodity product apart from the competition.
Few companies can create such a strong alliance and synergy between their respective products. A lot has to come together for that to happen, most notably the compatibility of products, values and business objectives. Also, the more overlap there is between the two companies, the more control they have to relinquish when it comes to decision-making. Even so, there is so much to learn from such a successful alliance, starting with the importance of a strong strategic foundation and a clear long-term vision of what the partnership is about.
The near legendary nature of the association between these two brands also means that there is a treasure trove of stories to mine—which is incredibly useful when it comes to reaching a younger audience.
In closing, Shell gains a huge amount of prestige from its relationship with Ferrari and the F1, similar to how premium brands with large-scale distribution (Tag Heuer, Burberry, etc.) benefit from their own partnerships.