GSK taps NASCAR favorite to drive awareness of new Nicorette lozenge

NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is taking the wheel for GlaxoSmithKline’s new Nicorette innovation—a better-tasting ice mint lozenge. The campaign, “Taste Test Drive,” features Earnhardt driving and talking about his own struggles hiding his smoking and his own quitting journey.

In a video, the semiretired Earnhardt surprises his cousin Danny Earnhardt Jr. with a taste test drive, in which Danny talks about how he would like to quit smoking and tries the new Nicorette lozenges. Up next, Earnhardt Jr. will invite two fans to take a taste test drive of the OTC nicotine replacement product. Earnhardt Jr. will also do social media posts and media appearances, which have already included a "Good Morning America" segment.

Scott Yacovino, GSK brand director for Nicorette/NicoDerm, said the company connected with Earnhardt Jr. through its agency Weber Shandwick, and after meeting him and hearing his enthusiasm for helping others quit, knew it would be a “perfect marriage.”

“This is a very personal category. You need to be authentic with your message. We weren’t just looking for a celebrity endorser to drive awareness and compel trial. We were looking for someone who was relatable and passionate,” Yacovino said.

Earnhardt Jr. is also incredibly popular with fans: He won NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver award every year from 2003 through his retirement in 2017.

The Taste Test Drive digital campaign complements the traditional Nicorette campaign, which includes a TV ad that highlights the benefit of the coated and tastier mint nicotine lozenge. The coated lozenge is the first innovation for Nicorette or in the category in 10 years, GSK said.

Weber Shandwick created the content for the campaign and is overseeing social and earned media, while Publicis/GSK is handling paid media.

Yacovino said initial responses to the product and the campaign have tracked better than expected. Taste Test Drive has picked up 198 earned media placements so far for a potential audience of 1.19 billion, he said.

"We’re always looking to provide a better pleasurable experience when they’re taking NRT products because quitting is a very difficult thing to do, so anything we can do to make the path to freedom from nicotine easier we’re all for it," he said.

RELATED: GSK, Pfizer go for radical makeovers with giant consumer combo destined for spinoff

GSK’s consumer healthcare division has felt the heat of rising e-cigarette use, which has dampened sales of nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs). The company recently struck a deal with Pfizer to combine their consumer units into a new joint venture that they'll eventually spin off.