Saturday, April 25, 2009
Upon regaining its title as the world’s largest tire manufacturer in 1999, the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company broke sales records and was busy collecting the tattered market shares of its competitors. Its competitor Bridgestone/Firestone Retail & Commercial Operations suffered notably in 2000, when tires made by the company malfunctioned, causing some 200 deaths. In an attempt to gain even more ground over the competition and create a campaign outside of its traditional format, Goodyear decided to embark upon a new campaign. Goodyear awarded its $60 million advertising contract to San Francisco–based Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. The resulting television and print campaign, called ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear,’’ began over Labor Day weekend in 2001. The agency tailored ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ for viewers who were previously unresponsive to product-centered tire commercials. ‘‘It really wasn’t about the tires. It was more about the role that tires, and specifically Goodyear tires, play in people’s lives,’’ Cathryn Fischer, Goodyear’s vice president and chief global marketing officer, told the PR Newswire. Three different 30-second spots, all centering on the experience of travel, aired across network and cable programming. The commercials continued into 2003 and focused on universal travel themes; for instance, one spot depicted families from different cultures on road trips, all with children asking, ‘‘Are we there yet?’’ from the backseat. Aiming at a wider target than past campaigns, six print variations of ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ appeared in consumer magazines.
By 2003 Michelin North America and Bridgestone had rallied back, knocking Goodyear to the number three position. Analysts attributed Goodyear’s market slip to its restructuring attempts, which involved consolidating factories and performing cost-cutting measures. Even though ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ did not draw many accolades from the ad industry, it forced all tire makers to rethink using a technical pitch to sell their products to Americans. In 2004 Goodyear ended its relationship with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and reassigned responsibilities to Arnold Worldwide, but the company continued to use the tagline ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear.’’
Goodyear was founded in 1898 and led the world’s tire market by 1916. Throughout the twentieth century it oscillated in and out of the number one spot in the tire industry. By 1990, however, Goodyear had been suffering so drastically that it lost money for the first time since the Great Depression. With the help of CEO Stanley Gault, Goodyear by 1999 had rallied back and regained its position as market leader. Gault moved the company’s tire sales outside Goodyear’s retail stores by forging partnerships with Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Sears. Goodyear also benefited from the misfortune of its competitor Firestone when Firestone Wilderness AT tires malfunctioned on Ford Explorers. Ford replaced them with Goodyear-made tires.
In 2001 Goodyear ended its 15-year relationship with ad agency J. Walter Thompson, which had orchestrated Goodyear’s straight-shooting ‘‘Serious Freedom’’ campaign. The campaign included spots that explained to consumers the inner workings of tires. Advertising commentators criticized ‘‘Serious Freedom,’’ along with campaigns launched by Michelin and Bridgestone, for not differentiating the brands from one another. Except for a handful of tire enthusiasts, most consumers described tire commercials ‘‘simply as a lot of tires,’’ Fischer told the PR Newswire. In an attempt to reach a wider audience, Goodyear hired Goodby, Silverstein & Partners to craft its advertising. Saul Ludwig, an industry analyst, said to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, ‘‘Goodyear is getting in with their new ad program, while Firestone is on the sidelines, and Michelin is in the process of changing their advertising. Goodyear hasn’t had a brand problem. Goodyear is acting out of strength, not out of weakness.’’
Goodyear’s new campaign targeted a much broader market than its previous ‘‘Serious Freedom’’ campaign, which had appealed to male, sports-orientated tire consumers. In contrast ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ focused on safety-minded consumers with an affinity for travel. Awareness about tire-safety issues, however, did not automatically translate into brand awareness. ‘‘Surprisingly, even with all the Firestone stuff, it’s not on people’s minds,’’ Harold Sogard, general manager of Goodby, explained in an interview with the Plain Dealer. ‘‘If you go ask your neighbors what kind they are driving on, they don’t have a clue.’’ Research conducted before the campaign showed that most consumers never purchased tires with a brand in mind. The company concluded that explaining tire safety with a heartfelt narrative would make a more vivid impression.
To make sure the ads connected with consumers, Goodyear first screened the campaign for 20,000 of its employees. A.J. Faught, vice president of Goodyear affiliate Northwest Tire & Service in Flint, Michigan, told Tire Business, ‘‘So many tire ads look so technical, which doesn’t appeal to anyone other than the enthusiast. This campaign goes straight to the point about safety. Safety is a big issue right now with consumers, who don’t want to have to worry about their tires.’’ Goodyear employees felt that the new campaign was more ‘‘touchy-feely’’ and that it would indeed strike a chord with a larger demographic.
Bridgestone/Firestone had worked its way up to be the world’s largest tire manufacturer by 2003. This was despite the fact that Firestone tires had notoriously shredded on Ford Explorers in 2000, leading to the deaths of more than 200 people. Further investigation into the tragedy’s causes shifted blame onto Ford. One source quoted a Ford Motors spokesperson as admitting, ‘‘Something about the car caused it to roll over and crash, no matter what tires it was riding on.’’ In 2000 Bridgestone/Firestone reported a $2.8 billon loss over the previous year. By 2002 Bridgestone had rebounded with a sales growth of 16.5 percent, reaching almost $19 billion and surpassing Goodyear’s $13.8 billion. Until 2001 Bridgestone had primarily advertised with sponsorships at motor-sports events. After 2000 the company began moving advertising into wider markets, shifted efforts from Firestone to Bridgestone, and premiered two TV spots at the start of the 2002 Olympic Games. For the first six months of 2001 Bridgestone spent $12 million on advertising, a significant increase from the $400,000 the same period the year before. Despite the accidents Bridgestone continued marketing Firestone tires. Grey Worldwide, the advertising firm handling the Bridgestone account, told Advertising Age in 2002, ‘‘We are not going to abandon a more than 100-year-old brand. Firestone has a rich heritage and it’s the tire you can rely on.’’
While Goodyear’s ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ campaign ran, its competitor Michelin drifted between being the second- and third-largest tire manufacturer in the world. Focusing most of its efforts in North America, the South Carolina corporation had $7 billion in sales during 2002 and grew 14 percent. In 2002 Michelin launched a television, print, and outdoor campaign that featured Michelin’s longtime mascot, Bibendum, the plump character made of white tires. The campaign’s first TV spot, ‘‘Guardian Angels,’’ was created by Palmer Jarvis DDB and capitalized on the consumer’s need for safety. The 30-second commercial featured Bibendum making snow angels, followed by the tagline ‘‘Your guardian angel this winter.’’ Another Michelin spot, ‘‘Shuttle,’’ featured Bibendum entering a NASA space shuttle, which also used Michelin tires, just before its launch. The campaign focused primarily on consumer satisfaction and safety issues, as opposed to tire performance.
Before releasing the ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ campaign, Goodyear had 20,000 of its employees preview the first television spots in August of 2001. Each 30-second commercial centered on a specific theme: carpooling, family vacations, and the morning commute. All three aired for the public during Labor Day weekend, and six print ads began appearing in consumer magazines such as Time, People, and Newsweek. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners wanted to venture outside Goodyear’s previous target market, sports-centric males. The television spots ran during a wide range of prime-time television programs, including 60 Minutes, The Drew Carey Show, Everybody Loves Raymond, and 48 Hours. Firestone’s disaster had made the public acutely sensitive to tire safety, a concept Goodby drove home with ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear.’’ The campaign attempted to imply that Goodyear’s tires would keep drivers and passengers safer, which in turn would increase consumer desire for Goodyear tires. One 30-second spot, ‘‘Carpooling,’’ which dwelled exclusively on the theme of safety, featured a young girl being carpooled. The spot’s voice-over warned, ‘‘She’s not your daughter, but if you give her a ride home, she might as well be.’’ Another spot, ‘‘Morning Commute,’’ carried a lighter tone and featured a car full of office workers. The driver was constantly swerving to avoid random furniture and housewares left in the road.
One of the campaign’s most memorable spots, first airing on September 1, 2001, featured four families from different ethnic backgrounds on road trips. The spot, directed by Bryan Buckley of the production company Hungry Man, played on the universality of bored children enduring family road trips. The commercial began with an American family traveling in a midsize sedan. A little girl in the back seat asked, ‘‘Are we there yet?’’ to which the father grunted, ‘‘No.’’ The next shot featured a second family road-tripping through snow-capped mountains, and a similar ‘‘Are we there yet?’’ exchange took place, but in subtitled Russian. A third road trip, in the middle of a rainstorm, unfolded, but this time the family spoke Chinese. The last shot featured an African family all speaking a tribal click dialect and speeding across the desert in a Land Rover. Two young boys in back asked if they had arrived at their destination yet. The mother finally snapped, ‘‘If you ask me that again, I have to stop this car!’’
Later television spots, gravitating around similar themes of safety and introducing Goodyear’s Run-Flat technology, broke in 2003. One television spot, ‘‘Screw,’’ showed a screw tumbling from a skyscraper and onto the street. After a car ran over it, a voice-over explained, ‘‘Sharp steel is no match for smart rubber. Tires with Run-Flat technology.’’ Print ads ran during 2003 as well. Harry Cocciolo, creative director for Goodby, Silverstein & Partners during 2003, told Adweek, ‘‘We tried to find ways to remind people that tires can really make a difference. The Run-Flat technology is being used by Humvees in the military. These are really great proof points that haven’t been taken advantage of.’’ Adweek selected the Goodyear commercial ‘‘Bouncing Balls’’ as one of the best spots of April 2003. The surreal spot featured a driver heading down a street that suddenly filled with bouncing balls. Seconds later children began chasing the balls. The driver slammed on his brakes, and a voice-over remarked, ‘‘The unexpected can be planned for. Tires with proven stopping power.’’
By 2003 Goodyear had again slipped to number three among tire makers. But despite the fact that ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ coincided with a decline in Goodyear’s sales (from $14.1 billion to $13.8 billion in one year), the campaign was important for reshaping the advertising paradigm that tire makers had used for years. As John Polhemus, president of Goodyear’s North American operations, told Tire Business, ‘‘It’s a dramatic departure from the type of product-and-technologyfocused advertising that Goodyear has used in the past, and quite frankly, a departure for the tire industry itself.’’ In 2002 Michelin and Bridgestone began tailoring advertising efforts around safety and brand awareness instead of product design.
The majority of industry analysts blamed Goodyear’s 2002 backslide on the company’s restructuring efforts rather than on Goodby’s campaign work. The closing of factories and laying off of thousands of workers resulted in an $85 million decrease in annual operating costs. In 2003 Goodyear also sold most of its stock in Sumitomo Rubber Industries, which had sustained the company for decades. To exacerbate Goodyear’s problems even further, it became entangled in an agediscrimination lawsuit.
‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear’’ did score minor adindustry points when Adweek chose the ‘‘Bouncing Balls’’ commercial as one of the best spots of April 2003. By 2004 Goodyear had signed its creative efforts over to Arnold Worldwide, but it continued using the tagline ‘‘On the Wings of Goodyear.’’