Oct 06, 2023

Shinola is Detroit Grand Prix 'official timekeeper,' race sponsor

Event sponsorships are mostly about money. This one also is about time.

Shinola — a new and lesser-known Detroit brand, at least in its current incarnation — is betting its affiliation with Detroit Grand Prix as its "official timekeeper" will continue to raise its profile nationwide and beyond, giving it a stronger marketing toehold in a sport that luxury watch-buyers love.

"We saw an opportunity to get back involved," Shinola spokesman John Stoll told the Free Press, adding that the company has been selective about its marketing sponsorships. "Racing has always been tied to precision and quality and performance, and it underscores what we know about Shinola watches."

And, like the race, which was in downtown Detroit and came back, Shinola's sponsorship did, too.

The watch company, which started in 2011, had been a Detroit Grand Prix sponsor when the race was on Belle Isle, stopped in the mid-2010s, and recently re-signed a new three-year deal, which should take it through 2025, the year the city's contract to host the race downtown also ends.

It declined to disclose how much it paid for the deal.

Still, in a coincidental twist, Shinola also has a connection to the race's main title sponsor, Chevrolet.

The automaker is older, by about 100 years, and has established ties to motorsports. But its headquarters, Detroit's tallest building with its name wrapped around it, also is in Detroit. And the carmaker was started by two race-car driving brothers — Louis-Joseph and Arthur Chevrolet — and sons of a Swiss watchmaker.

The aim of both companies, of course, is to sell stuff.

Chevy's sponsorship helps support an annual high-profile Detroit event but also links the manufacturer, which has a strategy to "find new roads" with vehicle electrification, to its "heartbeat of America" past as a seller of cars with high-performance internal combustion engines.

Shinola — which took its name from a defunct blue-collar shoe polish company known for the colloquial expression for a dimwit, not a trendsetter luxury — gets to associate its watches, or rather, timepieces, with a high-speed, high-life lifestyle.

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Shinola has been running a countdown clock on the Grand Prix website for days. There are Shinola logos throughout the city, and the company plans to present watches to the winner — limited=edition timepiece No. 313 out of 500, which sells for about $3,000 — and the next two runner-ups, one of its original watch models.

In this case, there's another benefit for the sponsor. Unlike, say, Swiss luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer, which is the official watch, timepiece, chronograph and smartwatch of the Indianapolis 500, Shinola also can take credit for supporting its workers.

The company assembles its watches, which have Swiss-made parts, in Detroit.

Michael Layne, the president of Farmington Hills marketing, public relations, and digital media company Marx Layne, said that in many ways sponsorships help companies reach targeted audiences. Shinola's sponsorship, he said, makes sense because it is a business that has tied itself to Detroit.

And, he said, a watch, like a car, is about technology, art, and style.

"It's a perfect opportunity to showcase the Shinola brand in a way that fits with their DNA," Layne added. "You're going after an audience that cares about an event and when you attach your name to that event, you are really attaching your name to that consumer."

When Shinola announced its deal in April, Grand Prix President Michael Montri said Shinola was "born right here in Detroit" and that the company's "commitment to performance while producing high-quality American products here in the Motor City" aligned "with our focus at the Detroit Grand Prix."

A day before the race, the company sent out a promotional email: "Start your engines."

The unspoken message: if you want to feel like a Detroit Grand Prix race car driver, purchase our product.

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or [email protected].

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