On February 29, 2008, aside from it being a leap year, many things happened: the United States ranked Spain as the EU country with the highest drug consumption, Google announced a free web design system, Bush labeled Raúl Castro as a “tyrant,” and Spanish singer Melendi released a new song about a high school classmate nicknamed ‘El Nano.’ That classmate was none other than Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso, and the song became an instant anthem.
In 2022, Melendi went live on Instagram with a new version of ‘El Nano’ that sparked excitement among his followers. “Let’s go, Nano! Let’s see where we find ourselves,” he sang. The reason for dusting off the anthem, fourteen years later, wasn’t that Fernando Alonso had won another championship but because he understands social media just as he understands the cars he drives. The strategy the driver began developing on social channels in 2022, and perfected in 2023, has catapulted him to the top of our list of creative players. Let us tell you why and what brands can learn from this masterstroke.
So how did this happen?
It all began with an incomprehensible decision: Alonso signing with Aston Martin in early 2023, when in the previous season it had been the worst team on the grid. However, what no one expected was that the British team’s car would perform and bring Alonso back to the top. After years of wandering in the desert, the Spanish driver was back on the podiums, nearing a victory that would mark his 33rd career win, reigniting the excitement of many fans who had experienced recent seasons with an air of indifference.
From this renewed excitement and the ambition to reach the top again, the idea of the ’33’ emerged—a claim much more direct, tangible, and effective than ‘El Plan,’ Alonso’s tactic from his previous season with the Alpine team. On its own, 33 is just a number that means nothing, but when contextualized in Alonso’s circumstances, it becomes almost a religion: the oldest driver on the grid, winner of two F1 World Championships, and not having won a race since 2013.
But the brilliance of the ’33’ goes beyond the claim itself. In the 2007 movie titled ‘The Number 23’ the protagonist, Jim Carrey, becomes obsessed with the number because he sees it everywhere. Well, the same is now true for Spanish fans with the number 33: Aston Martin would post a video on social media with 33 camera angle changes, Alonso would post another lasting 33 seconds, a photo of a treadmill with a distance of 33 kilometers, a staircase with 33 steps, and so on, to the point of delirium. Creatively, the ’33’ was a 10/10: a concise concept, stretchable to infinity, with as many applications as Aston Martin, Alonso, and the fandom could invent. The number was always there, you just had to look for it!
Connection with New Generations
The phenomenon of the ’33’ began as a niche. Formula 1 has historically been a sport for adults, with various studies placing the majority of followers between 45-55 years old, and the second most representative group between 55-65. Bernie Ecclestone, former president of F1, once stated that he wasn’t interested in young people because they couldn’t afford a Rolex “and those who follow Formula 1 can.”
However, in the recent years of the competition, under the new leadership of Liberty Media, efforts have been made to connect with new generations through highly successful documentaries like ‘Drive to Survive‘ or more organic and less corporate publications. But it has been Alonso and his ’33’ who have finally built that bridge through a combination of his personal story, charisma, and sense of humor. All of this, along with his mastery of social media and an understanding that interest in the sport has expanded to include not only during the competition but also before and after.
In general, certain traits have been a constant in the driver’s career: never holding back, being spontaneous, knowing how to laugh at himself, or conveying the sense that he doesn’t mind being the ‘bad guy.’ On social media, he has learned to amplify these facets. While TikTok’s sponsorship of Aston Martin surely helps, it’s not decisive. No other driver on the grid, many of them in their twenties, has achieved the connection that Alonso has with the younger audience.
Hola😇 🏆🔙😇 pic.twitter.com/b8amUuvc08
— Fernando Alonso (@alo_oficial) March 20, 2023
The Power of Real-Time Marketing
Among all the moments of madness with the ’33’, there’s one that encapsulates Alonso’s strategy with social media: letting rumors start for him, riding the waves of real-time marketing that interest him, and flirting with self-parody. Enter Taylor Swift.
It happened in April when the driver and the singer ended their respective relationships. Two unrelated pieces of news until (old) photos of Taylor making the ’33’ with her hands surfaced, and people took note of her age, exactly 33 years old. In the midst of all these conspiracy theories, Alonso posted a TikTok. In it, he is seen sitting, listening to ‘Karma’ by Taylor Swift in the background, and winking. The caption: “Race week era.” Just when the singer was immersed in her ‘The Eras Tour’ tour.
But it didn’t end there. A few days later, the driver uploaded another video showing him lifting 22-kilogram weights. The background song? ’22,’ also by Taylor. The caption? “I’m lifting 22’s.” In the next Grand Prix, during one of the many press interviews with the drivers, a journalist asked him about the rumors, playing with puns from Swift’s songs. Alonso laughed it off and changed the subject.
Beyond the ’33’
But the Nano doesn’t solely rely on the ’33.’ Throughout the season, the driver has found new ways to maintain his relevance off the track without overshadowing the hype around the ’33.’ The key, once again, is real-time engagement, leveraging what his followers find amusing about him. Take, for instance, Flower Papi, a video where he is seen watering flowers at the Monaco Grand Prix after a fan made a viral montage of Alonso smelling flowers while waiting to be interviewed.
Aston Martin’s CM, @ajimmyslife on TikTok, posted a publication rating the best memes made with Alonso throughout the season. Many of them go beyond the frenzy for the ’33’ and are examples of how simplicity is rewarded on social media. There’s Flower Papi, but also another video stemming from his nomination for the ‘TikTok Awards 2023,’ which he later won in the ‘Public Figure of the Year’ category. In the video, he imitates Kevin James by shrugging. Or another where he’s seen reading a book titled ‘The Roman Empire,’ and @ajimmyslife comments: “I had to explain this to him, and I’m not sure if he understood, but he played along and followed me.” Perhaps that’s the key.
In summary, Fernando Alonso has been the first to cross the finish line and win over many of the young followers that Formula 1 has aimed to reach. His season, from a creative standpoint, provides several lessons:
- The search for a meaningful and impactful concept doesn’t necessarily require grandiose verbalization. For the Asturian, two numbers have been enough to excite and bring together a whole community of old and new followers.
- Fernando Alonso’s case demonstrates the importance of building a strong presence on social media. In his case, utilizing his strengths and what has been a constant in his career: charisma, authenticity, and humor.
- Playing with easter egg marketing and introducing hidden messages in his content—having the number 33 appear in some way—for his fans to discover.
- Alonso’s strategy of embracing moments of real-time marketing and self-parody proves the effectiveness of being authentic and quickly adapting to online conversations, both to reach wider audiences and to generate interaction.