FONTANA, Calif.—Kum...WHO? That's the response most North American motorists give the first time they're asked to consider buying Kumho-brand tires.
And it's this lack of brand recognition that Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc., the Fontana-based subsidiary of South Korea's Kumho Tire Co. Inc., hopes to counteract with the company's first-ever national consumer advertising campaign.
Kumho will unveil the new brand-building ad program as well as a new V- and Z-rated Ecsta Supra 712 performance tire at the Specialty Market Equipment Association (SEMA) shows, Nov. 2-5, in Las Vegas.
The multimedia campaign will get under way Jan. 5 with 30-second commercials on the TNN cable network's weekly "Bassmasters" program. The 30-second TV spots will be accompanied by two-page color ads in several leading consumer publications, including Time, Road & Track and Popular Science magazines.
Advertising will spotlight the company's broadline passenger, high-performance and light truck tire lines and conclude with a new ``Way To Go!'' tagline congratulating buyers for choosing Kumho tires.
Kumho has budgeted more than $750,000 to get the campaign under way, said Mike Leverington, national marketing manager for the U.S. company.
By co-sponsoring TNN's most popular outdoor sports program and associating itself with the program's other co-sponsors, he said, the company hopes to ``Americanize'' the Kumho name and make it more familiar to U.S. and Canadian consumers.
``We've aligned ourselves with some very American brands, such as Chevy Truck, K-Mart, Mercury, Ranger Bass Boats and Wrangler Jeans. Those are American icons,'' Mr. Leverington said.
Besides sponsoring the weekly TV show, Kumho also will participate in 20 major fishing tournaments scheduled next year by the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.), the world's largest fishing organization. B.A.S.S. fishing tournaments offer $6 million in prizes and attract as many as 500,000 spectators annually.
Dealers who stop by Kumho's booth at the SEMA show will be offered the chance to enter a special prize drawing to win an expense-paid trip to Chicago July 29-31 for the finale of the tournament series, the BASS Masters Classic.
The second major pillar in Kumho's ad campaign will involve the company's sponsorship of a new ``Way to Go!'' consumer sweepstakes. Top prize will be a 1999 Chevrolet Venture van accompanied by a fully loaded Ranger Bass Boat, with a combined value of more than $60,000.
Sweepstakes details will be outlined in direct mail advertising sent to all 375,000 members of the B.A.S.S. organization. Along with the contest, scheduled to run in May, retail customers purchasing qualifying Kumho-brand tires will receive a free Kumho/Igloo beverage cooler.
Mr. Leverington said each of Kumho's 3,500 direct-purchase dealers will receive a promotional kit containing contest details, three sample coolers, and point-of-sale and promotional materials.
Raising consumer awareness of the Kumho brand name won't be accomplished overnight, Mr. Leverington acknowledged. Even though the company has been importing tires into the U.S. for nearly two decades, ``Nobody knows who we are,'' he said. ``Yet we're the 10th-largest tire manufacturer in the world (in terms of tire sales).''
Building brand awareness is a long-term mission, Mr. Leverington said. ``We think it's a positive thing to do. And if we keep doing the right thing long enough, sooner or later it's going to get us in the right direction.''
Mr. Leverington said Kumho will fund the campaign using anticipated additional revenues and won't be increasing prices to dealers.
Over the last three years, he said, Kumho has experienced ``very large growth rates'' for both passenger and light truck tires in North America. ``We feel it's time now to reinvest in this market.''
Mr. Leverington said that in addition to realizing the high profit potential of the Kumho brand, the company wants dealers to know it is going to continue supporting them. ``We're at the foothills of the mountains in our brand-awareness effort. It doesn't stop here; it only begins,'' he said.
But why target fishing enthusiasts rather than expand Kumho's current involvement in motorsports through sponsorship of Sports Car Club of America events?
It's because research showed fishing enthusiasts are more likely than high-performance car buffs to purchase other types of passenger and light truck tires, said Media Director Denise Kraft of ST&P Communications, the Akron-based ad agency that conceived the program.
ST&P Account Executive Mike Kormushoff said Kumho doesn't have the advertising budget to challenge major tire makers in the auto-racing arena. Nor does anyone connected with the program think it can turn Kumho into a household word in a year or two.
To help consumers remember the Kumho brand name, the ad agency is using catchy two-word headlines, called mnemonic devices, that pair Kumho with similar sounding words that also target particular categories of tire buyers.
For example, ads directed to consumers interested in tires for performance driving will play on the words ``Turbo Kumho.'' Those aimed at motorists doing mostly city driving will feature the term ``Metro Kumho'' and light truck enthusiasts will be approached using the words ``Cargo Kumho.''
The TV spot highlighting Turbo Kumho shows a Corvette screaming through a turn. Metro Kumho depicts a small car darting through city traffic, and Cargo Kumho features a pickup truck being filled with supplies.
The campaign's dealer support materials range from a comprehensive ad planner to point-of-sale materials and bonus co-op opportunities.