Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. will soon learn whether emotion sells tires better than talking tread patterns.
The world's largest tire maker is rolling out a print and television advertising campaign--its first since the Firestone tire debacle tarnished the industry-- with commercials airing Saturday during college football.
The message is that life is a series of journeys, most in cars, picking up kids at school or taking vacations. The unspoken message is that people count on getting to their destination safely.
But while safety is an implied message, the campaign doesn't directly tackle messy Firestone-related problems. Instead, it plays on an array of emotions, from familial love to humor.
One commercial shows a morning carpool group suddenly swerving to avoid furniture and household goods strewn on the roadway. "Chafing dish," screams one man. The punchline: A heavyset man stares into the back of his now-empty moving van. "On the Wings of Goodyear" flashes across the screen.
Another ad features children asking exasperated parents: "Are we there yet?" The first is an American family speaking English, followed by similar scenes in Russia, Tibet, and Africa, each with subtitles. The scene underscores the commonality of being a parent regardless of nation, as well as the common, albeit unstated, concerns.
"Some people would see bringing humor to the tire industry right now as risky," said Robert Keegan, Goodyear's (GT) president. "But I think it's essential."
Mr. Keegan, who joined Goodyear last year from Eastman Kodak Co. (EK) and vowed to make it more consumer-oriented, said the campaign appeals to a broader group. The Akron, Ohio, firm's past campaigns tended to focus on products, while touting technical features such as tread patterns. Men were always targeted.
"We decided we had to talk to the consumer from the consumer point of view," Mr. Keegan said. "Primarily, the role that Goodyear tires play in their lives."
Goodyear caused a stir earlier this year when it dropped WPP Group PLC's J. Walter Thompson, which has worked on the account in various roles for the last 16 years. It hired Omnicom Group Inc.'s (OMC) Goodby, Silverstein&Partners of San Francisco.
"It's an opportune time to position Goodyear in the market," said Goodby's Richard Silverstein, co-chairman of the advertising group. He notes that the other two big tire makers -- France's Groupe Michelin and Japan's Bridgestone Corp., Firestone's parent company -- are in a "state of flux."
Firestone's ad dollars are being spent to convince consumers that the company has fixed its problems and to push Bridgestone brand tires as a substitute. Michelin recently switched to a new agency and is planning a U.S. campaign for early next year.
Firestone, despite its recent woes, was long associated in its ads with high-performance and racing. Michelin was the tire of safety, with ads that show a baby snug in a tire. Alison Heiser, vice president of marketing at Michelin's U.S. unit, said it is too early to talk about Michelin's new thrust, but she admits that the baby was "a one-horse act." The new campaign will include many facets, including more use of the Internet and sales promotions.
Tire makers are watching to see how Goodyear's ads play. The company's three, 30-second spots will run during primetime programs such as "ER" and "60 Minutes." Goodyear won't say what it is spending, but it is widely believed to be about $60 million a year, large by tire-industry standards. One reason for the hefty cost: Ads will run steadily year-round, rather than concentrated during the spring tire-buying season.
Some analysts question Goodyear's approach.
"Goodyear's best strategy would be to communicate that they have terrific technology because that signals that the tires are safe," said Jack Trout, a marketing expert. And he questions the use of humor even in some ads.
"There are certain products that people don't think are funny," Mr. Trout said. He then cites three: "Money, drugs, and tires."
Copyright (c) 2001 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.