Is Pirelli at all worried about rap's negative image?
One intriguing aspect Mr. Tyson has discovered about Hip Hop, he said, is that despite its well-known image of a very rough ``gangsta'' crowd ``into fighting and killing one another, one of the most startling things is, when you get inside and meet these people, many of them are incredibly nice and have in their hearts very positive feelings toward society, ethics, etc.''
According to Mr. Tyson, HSAN's message, for instance, is to ``get in touch with your life, take control of your life and every phase of it; don't just sit in some ghetto and wallow in your own misery, but get out and vote for what you want.''
The main thrust of Mr. Chavis' voter registration message, Mr. Gerken added, has been to ``take control of your life, whether it's drugs, sex, voting. You have a share in this.''
He said when Pirelli execs met with Mr. Simmons, Rev. Run said he had Pirellis on his Bentley. ``But they didn't know our slogan was `Power is nothing without control.' We gave him permission to use our slogan because the message he's trying to convey is that Hip Hop has great power, but it's nothing without control-if we don't put it under control, we'll never be mainstream.''
As a result of its Hip Hop activities, Mr. Tyson said Pirelli has had a greater presence at various car and music shows that have been popularized by DUB, an auto enthusiast magazine that mixes and markets rad rides and tunes to a young, hip crowd. Also driving the trend-and a lot more business to Pirelli, he claimed-are venues such as Black Entertainment Television (BET), MTV and its popular ``Pimp My Ride'' program, and the gotta-have exposure of current hot cars like the Chrysler 300C. ``Everyone wants to buy it and put 22-inch wheels and tires on it,'' Mr. Tyson said.
``Pirelli is one of the few companies to have the right size tire with the right load, speed code, etc. So suddenly there's, whoosh, this demand for this kind of product.''
Noting the work of Messrs. Simmons and Chavis and others in the Hip Hop arena, Mr. Tyson said that, ``if, at the end of the day, if all these guys are trying to lead by example, that's laudable and pretty easy for us to associate ourselves with them. Someone trying to lead young people by example-I don't really have any qualms as long as the message continues to be positive.
``Young people are led by the stars and what they do.''
Pirelli's driving campaign-which held an inaugural ``controlled driving day'' last month at the Road Atlanta road racing circuit in Braselton, Ga.-drew a number of guest celebrities for an event aimed at encouraging young people to drive responsibly and safely. They included supermodel and automotive enthusiast Tyson Beckford, veteran Hip Hop and R&B producer and artist Jermain Dupri, president of So So Def Records, and Loon, a leading urban artist from Bad Boy Records who has collaborated with musical artists Sean ``P Diddy'' Combs and Toni Braxton.
It drew about 60 licensed seniors-a boy and a girl each from 30 urban high schools in the Atlanta area who were trained in controlled driving techniques by professional racing drivers. Participants also received the Rubber Manufacturers Association's ``Be Tire Smart'' message packet.
Pirelli said it plans to hold a series of Controlled Driving Days next year at a number of sites across the country-likely focusing on cities where Hip Hop is more mainstream, including New York, Los Angeles and Miami. The aim is to invite young people ``who merited their attendance as a reward for being good students, for instance. It's a way to put some positive input into the young people's lives,'' Mr. Tyson said.
``We do ride-and-drives for our dealers, so it's quite easy to organize similar events for kids.''
The company also is considering coupling some youth driving events with dealer driving events next year, he said.
And, in connection with HSAN's message, Pirelli also has recorded some 40 public service announcements with Hip Hop celebrities for use across the country by BET and other similar venues, conveying the ``take control of your life'' theme.
``If this Hip Hop activity is truly mainstream, it certainly warrants greater attention,'' Mr. Tyson said. ``Pirelli is always moving along through generations, making sure our marketplace doesn't die off. People come across Pirelli through music as well as through car tie-ins.
``It's about investing in your future.''
Are dealers aware of this initiative?
``We're doing this slowly,'' Mr. Tyson answered. ``Dub magazine has a national tour, with a show in Chicago. Some of our dealers wanted a presence at that show. Even the dealers are realizing the potential and importance of this market segment.''
At last year's SEMA show, Mr. Gerken said, ``we were laughed at, even by our own sales force. But they're not laughing anymore. They were stunned at what they saw walking through our booth. It was dramatic.''
Mr. Tyson didn't want to put numbers on any kind of sales bump Pirelli might get from the Hip Hop angle, only venturing ``it's significant.''
``The whole segment of big-diameter SUV tires was born out of this movement,'' he continued. ``That is now a huge, lucrative element of the tire business. The sport compact car segment has gone down the pan into aesthetics because it's based mostly on looks, with cheap imported tires.
``But if you have a big, expensive SUV, you can't rely on just looks. You need the right, good rubber on it.''
As far as expending a lot of capital in its urban marketing campaign, Mr. Tyson said he's a ``great believer in public relations and promotion. When done well, it's often more cost-effective than advertising.''
Pirelli is not spending more than $20 million on advertising like some of the big tire companies, he noted.
``We're spending $2 million,'' so the company has to spend smart and choose more specific rather than broad targets.
How do you spend money on advertising in the U.S. market?
``It's like shooting a bullet in the air. Unless you have a massive, massive budget and a scatter-gun approach, the ways to gain exposure and be cost-effective, for us, is to target things like the music and motorsports segments'' in what he called an ad campaign that's been ``incredibly focused.''
Urban marketing is ``certainly cyclical,'' he said, ``but who knows how long that cycle will last? Music is always an important way to get to the youth market.
``Will it continue to be Hip Hop? Who knows,'' Mr. Tyson continued. ``That might become a niche. You never get a lead for too long.''
He fully expects competitors to latch onto it once they see Pirelli making hay with its urban marketing approach. However, Mr. Tyson added, ``all the early signs are this program is working beyond our initial dreams.''
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