CLEVELAND—You want to know the latest on the massive recall of Firestone tires, so you visit Yahoo! and type in the keywords "tire recall" to initiate your search.
In an instant, you're transported to a page with a list of Web site matches, along with this banner ad across the top:
"Through bad weather," the ad flashes once, "through good weather," it flashes again, "our all-terrain tires get you there safely."
Then, one last flash, and a single word—"Goodyear"—appears, complete with the company's winged-foot logo.
It's an example of the subtle, some might even say subliminal approach Goodyear has taken to the unique marketing opportunity presented by the serious problems of its rival, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. (BFS), which is voluntarily recalling 6.5 million tires.
Some BFS-made Wilderness AT tires have been linked to the deaths of more than 100 occupants of vehicles—most notably Ford Motor Co.'s Explorer sport-utility—that crashed after the tread on their tires reportedly separated.
The delicate marketing challenge to Goodyear and its dealers, as well as to other tire makers and their retailers, is to find ways to exploit Firestone's troubles without appearing that they're kicking their competitor while it's down.
"This is not a way that anybody wants to get business," said Chuck Sinclair, director of public relations for Akron-based Goodyear North American Tire.
"But, having said that, it's a business we're in," he added, noting that Goodyear has an obligation to consumers and to the retail dealers who sell its tires.
Some tire dealers are even creating advertisements specifically in response to Firestone's big recall. Among them is Mueller Tire & Brake, a 15-store chain based in Cleveland.
Several weeks ago, Mueller began running a radio ad urging motorists unsure if their tires are part of Firestone's recall to come in for a quick check, noting Mueller can replace those tires with Goodyear, Michelin or other brands.
A similar informational approach has been taken in a radio ad by Conrad's Total Car Care and Tire Centers, which operates 26 stores in Greater Cleveland. Dominic Umek, general manager, said the company saw the recall "as an opportunity to build a relationship with the customer for the long term" while addressing an immediate need for people concerned about driving on potentially dangerous tires.
Conrad's recall-related ad has run for a few weeks and will remain part of its advertising rotation through at least the end of October.
Goodyear itself has taken a measured yet multi-faceted approach toward gaining business amid Firestone's woes. "We believe it's all done in very good taste," Mr. Sinclair said.
Besides buying banner ads connected to keywords such as "tire recall" at Internet search engines that include Ask Jeeves and Yahoo!, Goodyear now features on its Web site the question: "Are your Firestone tires being recalled?"
Click on that question and the visitor is transported to a sympathetic "Dear Consumers" letter from John C. 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."
He then notes 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"—namely, Goodyear's own.
Goodyear also is tweaking its television advertising. For example, Mr. Sinclair said the tire maker recently inserted a few seconds of footage of a sport-utility vehicle driving along in one of its series of "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, he said.
Yet no matter how discreet or well-meaning they may be, the efforts by Goodyear and tire retailers to gain business from Firestone's troubles are not risk-free, said Robert Falls, president and CEO of the Robert Falls & Co. 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."
He said dealers and manufacturers should ask themselves: "How can I help the public and build good will?"
Firms "that answer people's questions and address their concerns, without mongering fear, will build their brand names on a foundation of deserved good will," he said, "and will be the ones who prosper the most tomorrow because they did the right thing today."