NEW YORK — Elizabeth Arden is the latest beauty company to make it to the stock car starting gate in an effort to pep up a venerable brand —?in Arden’s case, Halston Z-14.

Racing champion Jeff Gordon, a four-time winner of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR, championship stock car race, signed a deal Thursday to be the face of the 28-year-old fragrance, said E. Scott Beattie, chairman and chief executive officer of Elizabeth Arden. The contract is for three years, noted Lauren Mennella, vice president of prestige fragrances, in a telephone interview with WWD Thursday morning.

While Arden executives refused to talk about financial terms of the deal, industry sources estimated that Arden will spend at least $3 million over the life of the contract. Industry sources also estimated that the Halston Z-14 scent does about $10 million at retail annually.

Beattie isn’t the first to realize the appeal of a racing hero. Rival L’Oréal USA’s European Designer Fragrances division also uses the strategy to promote its classic Drakkar Noir scent, signing Dale Earnhardt Jr. two years ago to front the fragrance.

According to Mennella, NASCAR associations “clearly have a powerful impact” on product sales.

A NASCAR research study found thatrace fans are three times more likely to try and purchase products from companies that align themselves with racing and race car drivers. It is estimated that NASCAR merchandise alone racks up sales of more than $1.3 billion annually.

Mennella said that Gordon’s “universal appeal” will draw in “a new generation of users.”

“Jeff is one of the most accomplished drivers around,” said Mennella. “His sophistication fits perfectly with the upscale luxury heritage of this fragrance. Like Halston Z-14, Jeff is daring and bold. We feel that he will open up a whole new audience for the brand. We see this as a new chapter for the brand.”

The intention of the new campaign is to appeal to men 35-plus. “We hope we will get both older and younger consumers, but that is our target age group,” she noted. The first ads will begin appearing in February 2005, to coincide with the start of the Nextel Cup Racing season at Daytona Beach, Fla., she said.While Mennella wouldn’t comment on the projected ad spending — industry sources estimated that it will be at least what L’Oréal spends on its Earnhardt/Drakkar Noir ads, or an estimated $4 million or more —?she noted that Arden will make “a significant investment” in the campaign.

“We will be doing a huge variety of different things, including national print advertising, special-edition packaging integrating Jeff, as well as in-store displays featuring his image,” she said. Sales promotions with collectible items and a consumer sweepstakes are on tap as well, she said. An extensive sampling campaign, with upward of one million scented pieces, is planned. But this sampling effort will kick off at rather unusual venues: racetracks around the country. “We want to sample this where Jeff’s fans are,” said Mennella. “There’s no place more logical than the track for that purpose.”

Gordon will be featured in a new marketing campaign currently being devised by the brand’s marketing team. According to Mennella, the mix will include the consumer sweepstakes, print advertising featuring Gordon and sales promotions with collectible premiums.

“I love wearing Halston Z-14 because it’s a classic American fragrance that’s sensual, warm, earthy and truly distinctive,” said Gordon in a statement. “The relationship with Z-14 is especially significant considering that 2005 will be the 14th year of my NASCAR racing career.”

Halston Z-14, a spicy juice with a bottle designed by jewelry designer and former Halston model Elsa Peretti, was originally released in 1976.

— Julie Naughton

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