Go anywhere in the ``Great White North'' and chances are consumers have heard of the ``Goodyear Guy.''
Who, you may ask? A blimpy alternative to the ``Michelin Man?''
Actually, it's not a bad gig for someone whose distinctly dulcet tones and unique ``everyman'' style have been heard and seen over the airwaves in Canada via radio and television ads.
Besides the obvious differences-like weather and a greater market for winter tires-brand marketing can and does take a different tack once you get above the northern border of the U.S. and into Canada.
Akron-based Goodyear hawks its tires domestically, for instance, without a figurehead spokesperson, not withstanding recognizable figures such as its well-known fleet of blimps. But for more than a dozen years its Goodyear Canada Inc. unit has used Thom Sharp, described in a recent article by the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail as ``a bald-headed, Detroit-born actor, stand-up comic and one-time advertising copywriter and producer.''
George Clooney, he ain't-but yes, he is the ``Goodyear Guy.'' No doubt about it.
Just ask Ian McIntosh, Goodyear Canada's general manager for advertising and marketing services. He recalled taking Mr. Sharp to an all-star baseball game in 1995 and being inundated with fans of the unlikely celebrity. ``And last year I took him to a hockey game and the reaction was amazing: When Thom got out of the limo, people started yelling, `Hey, there's the Goodyear Guy.'''
The Canadian tire maker has discovered that since it began using Mr. Sharp, who lives in the Los Angeles area, ``our radio outperforms most TV norms in regard to brand linkage,'' Mr. McIntosh told Tire Business, ``and that includes commercials such as the Michelin baby stuff. It's huge. Huge.''
Mr. Sharp came to become a ``tire star'' in a roundabout way, originally deciding he wanted to make a go of Hollywood-a perhaps more glamorous calling. ``But he found out his voice was so distinctive that he started getting a lot of radio gigs,'' Mr. McIntosh said, noting the actor is ``a very nice guy and very, very funny.''
Just how Mr. Sharp got chosen by Goodyear Canada is in itself the stuff from which marketing legends are born. In 1991, deciding the tire maker needed a new advertising campaign and image, Mr. McIntosh's boss had spent six months working on several approaches before deciding on a keeper. One of the marketing campaign possibilities that fell to the wayside was a piece exhibiting the talents of Mr. Sharp.
Then, ``we literally picked him out of the garbage,'' Mr. McIntosh said. ``I told my boss I didn't think the campaign he'd chosen was quite right, so we trashed the more `corporate' one that had been six months in development.
``Our creative director pulled out the cassette that had Thom working a commercial for a small hamburger joint.''
The rest has kind of been Canadian history.
According to the Globe and Mail, Mr. Sharp also had done a celebrated series of commercials for Bell Canada's cellular telephone unit, so by the time Goodyear's new ad campaign hit the airwaves his voice was already familiar.
``I don't think there's a dealer or associate up here who doesn't love (Thom),'' Mr. McIntosh said.
TV is normally the brand-image medium most companies think of when crafting a marketing campaign, with radio viewed more as a news-type medium, he said. ``But with Thom, our radio numbers are just staggering-and at half the cost. He's been great. He's a spokesperson who's literally turned into an icon.''
Based on results from a Gallup poll, the Canadian tire maker's ongoing ``Goodyear Guy'' campaign was recently voted the fifth-best-liked ad campaign in the country. That's a pretty prestigious recognition, Mr. McIntosh said, seeing that it was up against the likes of a campaign from Bell Canada and three other firms from the U.S. that have marketing overlap into Canada.
Joan McArthur, a Los Angeles native who helped ``discover'' Mr. Sharp for Goodyear, told the Globe and Mail the actor deserves a lot of credit for the Goodyear Guy's longevity. ``Thom and the character we created with him is a guy that you recognize and know, and you think you might be him.
``He's a little bit of a victim, he's occasionally grandiose, he gets a little ahead of himself. And we all do that. We all step in it. So he ends up being all too human.''
In his ad spots, Mr. Sharp often pitches the safety of Goodyear tires by highlighting their use on vehicles such as fire trucks, police cars, school buses and ambulances-where safety is an utmost concern.
The newspaper cited one popular spot in which Mr. Sharp chastises an ambulance driver about how the word ambulance is spelled on the front of the vehicle. ``I'm almost sure you have it spelled backwards...ECNALUBMA,'' Mr. Sharp says a bit snippily-oblivious to the fact ``ambulance'' will be viewed correctly when seen in the rearview mirror of anyone driving in front of the vehicle.