CLEVELAND (Sept. 18, 2000)— The Firestone tire recall has presented Goodyear with a delicate marketing challenge. The company is trying to exploit Firestone´s troubles without appearing to kick a competitor while it´s down.
``This is not a way that anybody wants to get business,´´ said Chuck Sinclair, director of public relations for Goodyear North American Tire.
``But, having said that, it´s a business we´re in,´´ added Mr.Sinclair, who noted that Goodyear has an obligation to consumers and to the retail customers who sell its tires.
Goodyear is taking a measured yet multifaceted approach toward gaining business amid Firestone´s woes. ``We believe it´s all done in very good taste,´´ Mr. Sinclair said.
Goodyear is buying banner ads connected to keywords such as ``tire recall´´ at Internet search engines that include Ask Jeeves and Yahoo!
Goodyear on its Web site now features above the company´s logo the question, ``´Are your Firestone tires being recalled?´´ Click on the question and the visitor is transported to a sympathetic, ``Dear Consumers´´ letter from John Polhemus, president of Goodyear North American Tire.
``If you are reading this message, you likely have been impacted in some way by the unfortunate chain of events that led to the voluntary recall of several lines of Firestone sport utility vehicle tires,´´ Mr. Polhemus states. ``These, obviously, are difficult times for the tire industry... but no one knows that any better than you.´´
His letter then notes a couple of paragraphs later in boldface type that because Firestone has authorized owners of its recalled tires to go directly to Goodyear, Kelly and Dunlop outlets for replacement tires, ``´you can get your tires through the largest network of retailers in the industry´´—its own.
Goodyear also is tweaking its TV advertising. For example, Sinclair said Goodyear recently inserted a few seconds of footage of a sport-utility rolling along in one of its ``Serious Freedom´´ commercials. The spot ends with the tag lines, ``Serious technology ... Freedom from worry,´´ drifting across the screen—an addition made at the start of this year, Mr. Sinclair said.
Building good will
Yet no matter how discreet or well-meaning they may be, the efforts by Goodyear and tire retailers to gain business from Firestone´s woes are not risk-free, according to Robert Falls, CEO of Robert Falls & Co., a public relations firm in Cleveland.
``Some might look at it as an opportunity to sell more, but the truth is, any time there is a crisis situation such as this one, it is a problem for an entire industry, not just one company,´´ Mr. Falls said.
``When there is a plane crash, it affects public confidence in all airlines, not just the one that had the accident.´´
In approaching the situation from a marketing perspective, Mr. Falls said, ``The dealers and manufacturers should ask themselves: `How can I help the public and build good will?´ ´´
Added Mr. Falls: ``Companies that answer people´s questions and address their concerns, without mongering fear, will build their brand names on a foundation of deserved good will and will be the ones who prosper the most tomorrow because they did the right thing today.´´
Mr. Dodosh is editor of Crain´s Cleveland Business in which this article originally appeared.