Continental Tires Creates a Stir

As the bickering between the Ford Motor Company and Firestone Tires escalated into open warfare last week, Boone/Oakley was quick to capitalize on the tire safety debate with a controversial new ad for Continental Tires.

The Charlotte, N.C., shop, run by former Martin Agency creatives David Oakley and John Boone, released a onetime print ad that appeared in USA Today last Tuesday, positioning Continental’s high-performance tire as a life saver.

The ad, one in a series that links Continental’s tires to cultural icons, depicts an open roll of rainbow Life Savers, with tires substituted for the circular candy. The candy, labeled “LifeSafe,” is tagged with the client’s logo: “They’re not just tires, they’re Continental tires.”

“Tires can lead to death or they save lives,” said Oakley, with a nod to Ford’s firing of Firestone, which made headlines last week. “Continental wants to build awareness about the safety and performance of their brand; they need high-impact work to do it.”

The print ad’s initial impact was felt in Parsippany, N.J., where, according to sources, Nabisco Inc.’s lawyers fired off a letter threatening legal action against Continental Tires for infringing upon its trademarked Life Saver brand. At press time, Nabisco officials had not returned calls seeking comment.

Jim Mayfield, vice president of marketing for Charlotte-based Continental Tires, said, “We thought it was an effective ad, a onetime event.”

Other sources, close to both agency and client, indicated Continental assured Nabisco the ad would not run again.

Continental, a subsidiary of German tire maker Continental AG, manufactures tires used on some Ford vehicles.

LifeSafe, part of the shop’s budgeted $5 million TV and print push, will give way to three more ads in the next months. One ad will depict a peace sign; another a life preserver.

Boone and Oakley, who set up shop last October, have been quick to link ads to news-making events. During last year’s presidential campaign, they created a billboard for a job placement firm that featured a photo of George Bush, with copy stating “Gore 2000” next to it. The joke, picked up by CNN, was paid off by a second billboard advertising for a proofreader.

“That ad was one of the reasons we picked Boone/Oakley for our account,” insisted Mayfield.