ORLANDO, Fla.—Ask his fans, and you'll likely hear Arnold Palmer is a competitive yet loyal man who is genuinely interested in the little guy. And if you can't find a member of Arnie's Army to ask for yourself, just grab your nearest Cooper Tire Co. representative.
It was Mr. Palmer's humble qualities—coupled with a coincidental friendship—that prompted the tire industry's newest connection to the sporting world.
Cooper Tire announced Feb. 4 that Mr. Palmer, winner of 92 professional championships and the seventh-ranked celebrity endorser, has agreed to be its spokesman for the next five years.
Cooper executives made the announcement just prior to allowing trade journalists to hack their way through the same course that soon will challenge the likes of Tiger Woods during the Bay Hill Invitational tournament.
Mr. Palmer, one of the world's most popular and accessible public figures, is a perfect fit for Cooper's quality image, according to John Fahl, president of the Findlay, Ohio-based tire maker.
Neither flashy, like Goodyear's and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s Indycar racing programs, nor unusual, like Goodyear's blimp fleet, Mr. Palmer represents the common man—or in Cooper's case, the independent tire dealer, Mr. Fahl said.
``Over the years, I have come to understand how my success depended on the respect that I gave to my fans and, in turn, their loyalty to me,'' Mr. Palmer wrote in a letter distributed to Cooper's dealer network. ``Cooper also understands how their independent dealer network made it possible for their success in the tire industry.''
With the addition of Mr. Palmer as a visible spokesman, a significant increase in advertising funds and other programs, Mr. Fahl said he believes Cooper tires could account for 20 percent of the auto tire replacement market in the next five years.
``Our intention is to create an emotional bond with customers through Palmer's endorsement,'' Mr. Fahl said.
That bond will begin to form during the Bay Hill Invitational Golf Tournament, March 20-23.
Cooper is serving as an associate sponsor of the tournament along with Hertz Corp. and Penzoil Products Co. Office Depot is the primary sponsor of the tournament, which will be televised on NBC.
Two 30-second television commercials, including one shot while Mr. Palmer was touring Cooper's Albany, Ga. tire plant, will air in 1997. The campaign starts with spots to be shown during the Bay Hill tournament.
The commercials will air from March through August, rotating between NBC and cable networks like ESPN, CNN, CNN Headline News, Discovery, USA, A&E and Fox Sports Net.
Mr. Palmer will appear in radio ads and print advertisements, Communications Director Patricia Brown said.
``This will be an exciting year for independent Cooper dealers who take advantage of our advertising investment,'' she said. ``We wanted more national recognition for the Cooper brand for our customers, and we are meeting that challenge with an unprecedented level of advertisng support for 1997.''
Point-of-purchase items, including a standup cutout of Mr. Palmer, will be available to Cooper dealers, according to Ms. Brown.
Next year's ad campaign will include more radio and television ads, she said.
Mr. Palmer's friend, Cooper's southern Regional Manager Tom Kopplin, came up with the idea to be Cooper's spokesman.
``I get many of these requests each year, and because I have worked hard all my life to build a good reputation, I don't agree to endorse just any products,'' Mr. Palmer wrote Cooper's dealers. ``When I looked at Cooper, I liked what I found: a great American-owned company that is known for its loyalty to dealers and top quality products."