CALGARY, Alberta—As tire dealers in the northern U.S. and Canada currently begin to receive their snow tire shipments from Bridgestone/ Firestone Inc., they will notice that the tire maker intends to pay special attention to female customers this winter.
That's because BFS has found that more women are making tire-buying decisions for their families, usually after spending some time researching the products. So, the Nashville, Tenn.-based tire maker has developed a different kind of strategy to reach this consumer group—obtaining Good Housekeeping magazine's seal of approval on its Blizzak and Winter Dueler lines.
The Bridgestone Blizzak WS-50, MZ-01 and MZ-02 and the Winter Dueler all recently have earned the Good Housekeeping Seal. One non-winter tire, the Firestone FT70c with Sealix Sealant, also has earned the seal.
If any product bearing the Good Housekeeping Seal proves to be defective within two years of purchase, the magazine pledges to replace it or refund the purchase price.
BFS wants its dealers to use the seal as a selling point with women customers to underscore the quality and reliability of its winter tires, said Phil Pacsi, director of consumer tires brand marketing. The company also is sending dealers educational materials on how to sell the tire, particularly to women.
"(The seal) is going to be on all of our point-of-sale materials and in all of our advertising this year," Mr. Pacsi said.
But why should BFS dealers care about a magazine's endorsement?
More than 23 million people read GH every month, 89 percent of whom are women, said Len Sesniak, the Good Housekeeping Institute's director of brand development.
Mr. Sesniak said the market research firm Siegal & Gale found in 1997 that 92 percent of the publication's female readers were aware of the seal and its meaning, and 90 percent said the seal was valuable to them.
Further research by Roper Starch Worldwide in 1999 found that seven out of 10 GH readers were more likely to buy a product endorsed with the seal, while nine out of 10 were more likely to believe an ad because of the seal, Mr. Sesniak said.
The Good Housekeeping Institute tests all products submitted to it by advertisers, but only places its seal on those products that its inspectors find acceptable, Mr. Sesniak said.
Because the magazine commands strong readership loyalty and has evaluated products for almost a century, the seal communicates trust and confidence in a product, Mr. Pacsi told reporters at an Aug. 4 press event in Calgary.
To get ready for this new marketing campaign, BFS held a special demonstration of its Blizzak and Winter Dueler tires for reporters Aug. 3-4 at the Olympic Ice Oval at the University of Calgary.
Unlike typical press events, this demonstration of winter tires versus their all-season equivalents was attended primarily by female reporters from women's consumer magazines. The drive was coordinated by BFS' Winter Driving School, based in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Journalists test drove the tires both outdoors and inside the ice arena on Dodge Caravans, BMW 3 Series sedans and Nissan Pathfinders—vehicle types usually driven by women with families, Mr. Pacsi noted. Not surprisingly, the winter tires performed dramatically better on ice in braking, acceleration and cornering tests than their counterparts, the Bridgestone Turanza and Dueler A/T tires, and drew rave reviews from the consumer magazine writers.
The point was clear: Snow tires outperform all-season radials on ice, a fact that would matter to a safety-conscious female customer.
Prior to the media demonstration, Bridgestone/Firestone held a similar demonstration at the Olympic Oval that it called the People's Tire Challenge—a periodic event in which BFS randomly selects consumers to test-drive tires without informing them who the manufacturer is until after they evaluate the tires' performance, Mr. Pacsi said.
The results of those consumer evaluations—the majority of which were completed by women—will be among the educational materials BFS is sending to dealers with their snow tires, Mr. Pacsi told Tire Business. Retailers can use that information plus the Good Housekeeping Seal to convince women customers that Blizzak and Winter Dueler tires are a safer choice for driving in snow and ice than all-seasons.
"We, as an industry, have done very well in convincing consumers that they don't need winter tires anymore," Mr. Pacsi said. "Now we have to work to undo what we did, because technology has advanced so much farther than the old studded and winter tires our parents used."
In addition to the People's Tire Challenge data BFS will supply to dealers, the firm will run standard TV and radio commercials and print ads featuring the seal beginning in October.
For now, this marketing and advertising campaign will go "full speed ahead" despite the recall BFS issued on Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness A/T tires Aug. 9, Mr. Pacsi said.
The company will wait and see if any customer backlash caused by the recall transfers over to the winter tire lines, he said.
If this strategy is succesful with the winter lines, BFS will consider marketing other tire lines specifically to women, Mr. Pacsi said.