Sep. 26, 2012 at 11:06 AM ET
In a wry gesture, Goodyear last week sent letters offering free driving lessons to traffic-challenged celebrities Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes. But is such snarky newsjacking a smart move for this iconic brand?
Bynes skipped her suspended license hearing this week and has a court appearance slated for Thursday for two hit and run incidents. Meanwhile, Lohan said she's planning on suing a cook for slander for claiming last week she clipped him with her Porsche SUV and claiming that she was “slurring” and “smelled like alcohol.”
The nearly identical letters Goodyear sent the two actresses say they're “sorry to hear” about the latest “driving mishap,” and that they “understand” that “driving can be a real challenge, particularly trying to navigate all of the stop-and-go-traffic in LA and New York City.”
Echoing sentiments felt no doubt by many Americans, Goodyear continued, saying, “we are concerned for you...We're concerned for your safety.”
The letter offered to fly the actresses out to the company's headquarters in Akron, Ohio for private lessons with their professional drivers, “no paparazzi allowed.” These trainers could show the “do's and don'ts of driving safely.” After a few spins around the test track, “you'll even be able to show Herbie the Lovebug a thing or two,” quipped the letter to Lohan.
It's all pretty light as far as celebrity digs go, but it feels a little weird coming from Goodyear. This is the tire brand of trust and value. It's been around since 1898. It represents solid Midwestern values, and is a stalwart of American manufacturing.
Until now, one of its most recognizable marketing campaigns has been the Goodyear blimp: a giant rubber-coated dirigible that idles over large mainstream sporting events. It's slow. It's massive. It's authorized. Its main goal is to get Goodyear's big yellow logo beamed out over broadcast television.
It's pretty much the opposite of the Lohan and Bynes zings. They were geared to appeal to celebrity news sites and blogs and those who read them. They were created and executed quickly in response to a piece of celebrity news. The playful tone and the use of a source document primed them for social media viral uplift.
Twitter? Perezhilton? TMZ? Not exactly what you associate with a venerable American tire brand.
“It's opportunistic PR,” Chris Curran, Goodyear's Vice President of Communications Public Relations, told NBC News. His signature appears at the bottom of both letters. Curran said that a piece of public relations material has to do one of three things: educate, entertain or inform. “This does all three,” he said. “It educates who Goodyear is, informs that there's an offer, and it also entertains.”
He disagreed that the move was out of the norm for the tire company, noting that several years ago they convinced Detroit Pistons guard Richard Hamilton to style his hair so that it looked like Goodyear's new TripleTred tire.
“Something that is fun and quirky gets across in a better way,” said Curran. “Obviously, we do normal PR and communications initiatives to promote our products, but sometimes it's 'fun' to do something a little outside the box that gets people talking.” A lot of people inside the company have said that the letters “were kind of cool,” too, he noted.
Goodyear isn't the first big brand to try to ride the buzz off a piece of news. Last year, Abercrombie & Fitch offered members of the Jersey Shore cast cash to not wear their clothes. Two years ago, when Obama made an offhand remark about holding a “Slurpee Summit” with Republicans, 7-11 made an official offer to the White House to supply them with red, white, and blue colored Slurpees.
Tim Nudd, editor of Adweek's blog AdFreak, is not a fan of the Goodyear initiative. “It's definitely a cheap publicity grab, and if you're a generally well respected brand -- which Goodyear is -- engaging these kinds of marketing gimmicks will only cheapen your brand accordingly,” he wrote by email. For Goodyear, your “absolute No. 1 brand attribute is trust. Why align yourself in any way with people who are reckless?” he said. “It's transparent celebrity-baiting.”
But what do the people think? Judging by the comments about the campaign on Twitter and blogs, they mostly think, “LOL,” “Hilarious” and “Brilliant.” So, success?
If there's one guy who can sort it out, it's Alex Bogusky, formerly one of the main creative engines behind advertising agency Crispin Porter and Bogusky. Among others, they're the ones responsible for all those unnerving “Wake up with the King!” Burger King ads. He should know a good counterintuitive campaign from a bad one.
And guess what? He likes it.
“I love this kind of thing. It's a good way to inject tires (which are boring) into the public conversation,” Bogusky wrote by email. “And it seems to me that Goodyear knows a bit about driving and is doing us all a favor in trying to teach this woman how to drive.”
His enthusiasm wasn't unabashed, however, pointing out two little bits of logical misfires, “1. Can you really teach someone how to drive while impaired? I don't think so,” and, “2. What does it say about Goodyear's expertise when she crashes AFTER their lessons? Which she invariably will.”
Luckily, there's probably little chance of either of the two actresses taking time out from their busy schedules to take Goodyear up on their offer. Goodyear says it hasn't gotten a response from either Lohan or Bynes.
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