Call it a New Year's resolution, finding oneself, a change in direction or an image makeover, but in 2004 Kumho Tire U.S.A. is determined to have a brand that's racy, hip and keeps the good times rolling.
Huh? Kumho-which for the past few years has gone fishing with the Bass Anglers Sportsmans Society-now will sponsor the X Games and allow Tom Arnold and sports celebrities to toss balls through its tires on cable TV's ``Best Damn Sports Show''?
And though it's been relatively quiet on the advertising front in years past, the tire maker now will sponsor a hip-hop concert at a car show-with MTV broadcasting the event?
That may make some Kumho dealers scratch their heads, but to hear Marketing Director Mike Leverington describe it, this new turn in marketing makes perfect sense.
``We had to stand back and look at our market and what's happened to it in the last five years,'' Mr. Leverington said. ``We've dramatically grown our ultra-high performance business to a point now where we're on the map, and that's caused us to do some things differently.''
In a marketing study done last year, the company discovered that its consumers are predominantly male, ages 18-34, are car enthusiasts and generally are more willing to accept foreign brands, he said. Originally, Kumho had thought its target consumer was older-and hence designed its bass ad campaign to appeal to a broadline audience. Now the tire maker is recognizing that building brand recognition among youth with its high-performance products is, well, the way to go, so to speak.
``For 2004 and beyond, we're going to dedicate our marketing and advertising to motorsports, which will be 100 percent of our platform,'' Mr. Leverington said, adding that this strategy is designed to appeal to consumers' emotions and emphasize fun and good times.
So Kumho is scrapping its ``Way To Go!'' tagline of the last few years for the more defined tag: ``Race Proven Performance.'' The Fontana, Calif.-based marketing and distribution arm of South Korea's Kumho Tire Co. Inc. will play up its racing reputation with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and Championship Off-Road Racing to generate excitement on the street, Mr. Leverington said. The strategy will involve advertising on cable and the Internet and placing 43 ads in seven car club magazines, such as Audi Club North America's Quattro Quarterly and BMW Car Club of America's Roundel. Print ads also will be seen in car enthusiast magazines published by Primedia Inc.
Mr. Leverington said Kumho will introduce three ``flights'' of advertising, one for each of the first three quarters. The first flight, which started Jan. 7, focuses on the launch of the ECSTA ASX ultra-high performance all-season tire. That launch became official Jan. 24-27 at ESPN's Winter 2004 X Games VIII in Aspen, Colo., an event in which Kumho participated as an associate sponsor.
The ECSTA ASX features an asymmetrical tread pattern for all types of driving conditions. The tread design provides more resistance to irregular wear compared with current directional patterns and enables the tires to be rotated easily from front-to-rear or side-to-side on a vehicle, Kumho said. With V and W speed ratings, the ECSTA ASX will be available by mid-year in 38 sizes for 16-, 17- and 18-inch wheels.
``X Games is in very extreme weather conditions, and the whole thing really ties back into what this tire really is,'' Mr. Leverington said, noting that Kumho also will be an associate sponsor of the Summer X Games in Los Angeles to be aired in August.
The second round of advertising will appeal to the male 18-34 age group and will be a general presentation on the company's HP and UHP products. It will go specifically after consumers who are buying 55-series and lower tires, Mr. Leverington said. The final ad flight will focus on the tuner crowd, ages 18-24.
From February through June, Kumho UHP tire commercials will run during Fox Sports Channel's ``Best Damn Sports Show.'' The tire maker also will sponsor a ``Kumho Tires, Way to Throw'' program on the show, pitting celebrity hosts against star athlete guests in a throwing contest-with Kumho tires as the targets. Mr. Leverington noted that the ``Way to Throw'' program will give Kumho ``additional attention'' over typical commercials.
But Kumho isn't stopping there. The company this year will experiment with ``cause'' marketing in the third quarter by sponsoring YouthAIDS, a global initiative that generates funding and awareness to help fight the spread of AIDS among youth. Mr. Leverington said that by getting involved with this organization, Kumho is aligning itself with fellow sponsors Coca-Cola Co., MTV, VH-1, Levi Strauss Co., RCA and Giorgio Armani among others, to fight AIDS.
``YouthAIDS utilizes education and entertainment education through well-known celebrities to communicate the message to their audience, which happens to be our audience,'' Mr. Leverington explained. ``Cause marketing is a very good thing for us to do, but it's not the only reason we're involved in it. The other reason is we can leverage our motorsports and enthusiast marketing activities through Youth-AIDS.''
YouthAIDS, which has used celebrity ambassadors like Ashley Judd and Justin Timberlake to promote its cause, can give Kumho easy access to some of those celebrities, Mr. Leverington noted. Hence, when Kumho heads to the Number One Parts Inc. (NOPI) Nationals car show Sept. 18-19 in Atlanta, it not only will take its motorsports truck and BMW A.G. Mini Coopers but also an undisclosed hip-hop singer and set up a stage with Kumho banner ads.
MTV will broadcast the concert; Kumho will donate all proceeds from NOPI tickets to YouthAIDS. Mr. Leverington said the tire maker expects to raise $80,000 from the event.
Dealers also will be involved in Kumho's 2004 marketing as the tire maker will design new point-of-sale material and literature for dealers that bring attention to Kumho's ultra-high performance tires. The company even has designed a contemporary-looking, two-tire display-dubbed ``K2''-for dealers to use in their showrooms. It will be available late in the first quarter.
Additionally, Kumho is changing its debit card program to include tire dealers as well as wholesalers, Mr. Leverington said. Retailers will earn payouts of $3 per ECSTA MX tire sold and $2 per ECSTA ASX sold, while wholesalers will earn $1 per MX tire sold and 50 cents per ASX tire sold.
Kumho also will hold a nine-month retail sweepstakes this year that will run through Sept. 30 and will be promoted at tire dealerships, car shows, races, ride-and-drive events, car club events and the X Games. The tire maker will announce the winner and give away a Mini Cooper during next fall's Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas.
``Everything we do is going to be very tight, very focused and very intense,'' Mr. Leverington said of this year's marketing campaign.