Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.'s message to consumers in 2004 is a purposely simple one: If you bought anyone else's tire, you goofed, and next time you buy tires it should be Cooper.
Opting against complicated ads that talk about design and engineering, the Findlay, Ohio-based tire maker is planning a multi-million dollar advertising campaign-its biggest investment in years-to get across a simple message, built on the tagline, ``Don't Give Up a Thing.''
Tom Dattilo, chairman, president and CEO of Cooper, said the tagline, which debuted in 2002, forsakes elaborate advertising talk yet can appeal to a number of consumers. ``It really resonates,'' he told Tire Business. ``You don't have to define `Don't give up a thing,' which is the beauty of it. It can be whatever any individual exactly wants it to be.''
The ad campaign-whose launch this month coincided with the one-year anniversary of the Zeon performance tire launch and the inaugural run of the Cooper Tire Championship Series race-also is aimed at building the Cooper brand to a premium level. The campaign was launched in Orlando to a handful of dealers and media ahead of the race in Sebring, Fla. The race was part of a five-year agreement inked last August with Formula Motorsports Inc. to create the Cooper series, which is the new home of the Formula Ford 2000 Zetec racing program.
``We're going to treat that (Cooper) brand like a precious jewel,'' said Pat Brown, vice president of advertising. ``We're going to be religious about where we allow it to be used, how it's going to be used (and) what it's going to be used in affiliation with. We are going to make this a premium brand that it truly is today.''
Cooper also hopes to improve sell-in and sell-out pricing. ``You don't have to give the brand away,'' Ms. Brown told dealers. ``It's a premium brand, it can command premium pricing, and that's why we want to invest in the advertising program that we're going to roll out.''
The campaign comprises three new television spots and seven print ads. The tire maker is employing a ``fewer, bigger, better'' philosophy in choosing its venues, opting for big name cable channels as well as high-circulation magazines. To target broadline customers, Cooper will use Lifetime, USA Network, Fox News, A&E and TLC. For sport-utility drivers, the company will use the History Channel, ESPN and the Weather Channel. Tuners will be found with FX, ESPN and the Discovery Channel. For print ads, Cooper will buy space in Time, People, Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Automobile, Truck Trend and various other magazines.
The cable ads will begin running the week of April 5. Print ads will run from April through November.
The television spots feature friends or family discussing the unnamed bad decision one of them had made. For example, in one, a father confronts his teenage son, saying, ``You thought we wouldn't find out? It's your life, you made your choice. I just thought we raised you better than that.'' The announcer then comes on, declaring, ``Buying tires is a big decision, next time, get everything you want,'' followed by the tagline.
The print ads also play off the bad decision motif. In one, set to appear in Time, People and Car and Driver, a photo of a country singer carries the explanation: ``His wife left him. His dog ran away. Then things got really bad. He bought the wrong tires.''
The ads, Ms. Brown said, offer a different theme to break through the usual advertising clutter.
``We didn't want the traditional car running around a track or a car running around a road or a ball bouncing out in the street,'' she said.
Jorge Pola of South Dade Automotive in Miami liked the ads. ``It's progressive, it's new, it's a type of advertising where there's some funny thing to it,'' he told Tire Business.
Ms. Brown said a recent survey by J.D. Power and Associates found that 60 percent of consumers who bought Cooper tires had owned them before-a figure well ahead of the industry average of 42 percent. Yet only 14 percent of all the buyers in the study had considered buying Cooper, including those who eventually bought them.
``What this tells us is we're not reaching enough people with our message to convince them to try Cooper because when they try us, they like us,'' she said, adding that last year's campaign reached only 27 percent of its target audience.
With this year's increased advertising buy, she hopes to reach 71 percent of the target audience.
In addition to the print and broadcast advertising, Cooper plans to put a major emphasis on racing and sports sponsorships. Ms. Brown said the company will renew all of its conference partnerships in collegiate athletics. In addition, Cooper will sponsor a feature for some college football games, the Cooper Tire ``Don't Give Up a Thing'' Defensive Player of the Game award. The company also will be the presenting sponsor of Thursday night football on ESPN for 12 games. Cooper is working other angles with ESPN, including promotions with personality Kirk Herbstreit.
The ``cornerstone'' of the collegiate program will be a national sweepstakes beginning in August dubbed the ``Ultimate Bowl Tour.'' The contest will send the winner and three guests to five college bowl games in seven days aboard the Cooper corporate jet. By law, Cooper must provide two ways to enter, so consumers will be able to sign up through Cooper's Web site or through dealers. After the promotion, the tire maker will distribute the names of entrants by zip code to its dealers.
``We'll be driving people into Cooper dealers,'' Ms. Brown said.
Carl Casalbore, vice president of retail sales and high performance tires, said Cooper will be ``aggressive'' with motorsports in the coming years with its Cooper, Avon and Mickey Thompson brands. The tire maker also will add more lines and sizes-including 19- and 20-inch sizes and possibly higher to passenger lines-in the near future. Cooper also unveiled an interactive mobile tour housed in a tractor-trailer to travel to at least four races this year for fans.
Officials with Cooper acknowledge, however, that just having a brand at a race isn't enough. ``It's what any corporation makes of it,'' Johnny Unser, Cooper's technical consultant for ultra-high performance and racing tires, told Tire Business. ``To just come here and expect people to notice you isn't going to happen.''
Mr. Casalbore said Cooper plans to distinguish itself through the performance of its products and the innovation of its technology.
``You're noticed by not following the norm, by being an innovator and having people recognize you because you have something new, different and basically you're new in the marketplace,'' he said.
David Barron, president of Barron's Wholesale Tire Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla., said he's glad to see Cooper jumping into the high-performance and racing arena.
``They've been missing this for a long time,'' he told Tire Business. ``I think it's good that they've moved on from the broadline golf stuff and went to high performance.''