AKRON-Goodyear's blimps continue to fascinate those who watch them float overhead-especially children. Their tiny fingers point skyward at the slowly drifting flying machines: ``Bimp, daddy!'' say the ones so young they have trouble pronouncing the word.
But Goodyear no longer has the only blimps in the sky.
So the tire maker must continue to look for innovative ways-in promotions and advertising-to keep its name associated with the wonderment and imagination typically felt by those within eyesight of a blimp.
``The strength of its attractiveness-its lure-to adults starts when you're children,'' said Goodyear's Eddie Ogden, public relations manager for the airship Spirit of Akron.
With that in mind, it was a natural fit for Goodyear to team up with Inventure Place-the Akron-based home of the National Inventors Hall of Fame-and Pizza Hut to launch BlimpForce, a children's club that hopes to encourage creative thinking and learning.
``BlimpForce is being introduced in Northeast Ohio to see if kids are interested in using its activities to accelerate their creative learning as part of a structured program,'' said John Perduyn, vice president of public affairs for Goodyear.
Children between the ages of 6 and 12 pay a one-time registration fee of $5 to join BlimpForce. They receive a membership card, an iron-on transfer and a quarterly newsletter filled with news, games, contests, experiments and pen-pal opportunities.
Through Oct. 13, children under the age of 12 who signed up for the club at more than 100 Pizza Hut restaurants in Northeast Ohio will be entered in a contest. Each restaurant's winner will receive a blimp ride for two.
BlimpForce was launched in August, and organizers said they hope eventually to expand membership to other parts of the nation.
Until then, however, people across the country can catch the airships as part of two new television commercials from Goodyear that use computer animation to make its blimps seem as though their helium-filled bodies are actually alive.
The retail ads, coupled with the company's new BlimpForce children's club are two new ways Goodyear is capitalizing on the promotional value of its blimp fleet.
The advertising firm Hitchcock, Flemming & Associates Inc. used technology similar to that from Walt Disney's popular Toy Story movie to simulate three blimps floating and dancing in two new 15-second television ads.
In one ad, the three blimps dip and squeeze beneath a limbo pole while an announcer explains Goodyear's ``save up to 25 percent'' sale on Regatta, Eagle RS-A, Eagle GA, Wrangler Aquatred and Wrangler AT tires. The promotion ends Oct. 19.
A second television spot-scheduled to begin airing Nov. 17-features a Goodyear retailer using tether chords to corral the three blimps while an announcer details the company's ``buy three, get one free'' offer. That promotion will run through Dec. 7.
Both television advertisements prominently display Goodyear's toll-free dealer locator number for consumers.
``Goodyear is fortunate to have a strong, positive icon that millions see on TV each week that can be identified with the company's fine products and services,'' Mr. Perduyn said.
Even other companies can benefit from the high profile of Goodyear's blimps.
``The Pizza Hut franchisees in the Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown (Ohio) areas decided we wanted this to be the biggest Pizza Hut promotion ever, so we got the biggest prize ever-the Goodyear blimp,'' said Tracy Parker, marketing manager of Midland Food Services L.L.C., a Pizza Hut franchisee.
Aside from covering high-profile events, including the Super Bowl, the World Series and the 100th birthday for the Statue of Liberty, the blimps also have been used to broadcast information in the wake of natural disasters.
More than half of the messages flashed on the blimps' huge lighted message boards are devoted to public service projects, according to the company.
Goodyear's blimp fleet, which started with the Pilgrim in 1925, currently consists of the Spirit of Akron, based in Akron, the Eagle, headquartered in Los Angeles, and the Stars & Stripes, based in Pompano Beach, Fla.