NUEVO VALLARTA, Mexico (Feb. 6, 2006) — If you're age 35 or older and waiting for Kumho Tire USA Inc. to approach you about its brand, don't hold your breath.
That's because the U.S. subsidiary of South Korea's Kumho Tire Co. Inc. figures you've already made up your mind on your tire-buying decision. So the tire firm will continue to focus on the 18- to 34-year-old audience—particularly males—with an even more specific emphasis on those 18 to 24.
“The reason we chose them is that those who are above 35 already have a mindset,” David Hudrlik, senior vice president of sales, told dealers at Kumho Tire USA's annual dealer meeting Jan. 13-16 in Nuevo Vallarta. “They've heard of the big brands and generally they're loyal to those brands. If we took all of our money and focused it toward them in something like Major League Baseball, we're not going to change their minds.”
With a firm that has limited re-sources for marketing and advertising, it's important to get the most bang for the buck, said Rick Brennan, a 35-year tire industry veteran who is Kumho Tire USA's director of brand management.
“It's more spending our money where we can have an impact with the young and build for the future,” Mr. Brennan said. “And we'll capture the rest of (the tire buyers) through the normal dealer sales process, because the rest of them—if they don't watch the X Games—aren't going to see our ads.”
Going along with its theme of “Xceeding Xpectations,” Kumho Tire executives understand that all its efforts start with a high-quality product.
“Without product, advertising is useless,” said Jay Yoon, Kumho Tire USA general manager and chief operating officer.
“Product-wise, the expectation of the younger market is huge,” Mr. Brennan added. “So we need to make sure we live up to that.”
When trying to reach the 18-34 demographic, it's not as simple as just putting an ad on television or in a magazine and waiting for the buyers to file in, Kumho executives said.
“They're going to make their buying decision really on what they discover from where they want to get the information, which is grassroots, and from their peers, and from their personal experiences,” said Mike Leverington, director of sales and marketing. “But they're not taking the word of 'Corporate America.' ”
The tire maker looks to get as much face-to-face communication as possible with its potential customers by being present at events frequented by the age group.
“You try to influence them when they're doing what they want to do, because you can't put out an ad today where you talk about yourself and they believe,” Mr. Brennan said. “If they think you're trying to dictate to them, it's all over.”
So at events like the Street Warriorz tuner series, of which Kumho is the title sponsor, Mr. Brennan said the company puts on a display but doesn't try to jam itself down the attendees' throats. “When they come up and want to talk to us, we talk to them,” he said. “So they learn a little bit about us piece by piece, face to face. They see the way we act, the type of events we go to. It's kind of just like hanging out with them.”
It's also about creating a “buzz” about your product. That happened last year when Kumho outfitted a car with tires that emitted red smoke in a drifting event.
“Two days later there were threads all over the Internet about Kumho and red smoke,” Mr. Brennan said. “We didn't advertise it. They talked about us, and that is precisely the key.”
Kumho got so much positive feedback from that tire, in fact, that it will begin marketing a limited number of sizes that emit either red or blue smoke, mainly for the drifting market. While it sounds like a gimmick, it's actually difficult and expensive to do, with the internal mixer having to be cleaned out after each batch.
“We're not just niche active, we're very much a grassroots company,” Mr. Brennan said. “So we need people talking about us. And the best way to do that is to come up with ideas that are wild and crazy. We don't have $50 million to spend on a tire launch, but we can come up with ideas that create a buzz.”
Motorsports will continue to be a major part of Kumho's marketing program, as the firm's advertising tagline “Race Proven Performance” indicates. It will participate in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), Sports Car Club of America, drifting and Championship Off-Road Racing (CORR).
“It's a great medium for growing our brand,” Mr. Leverington said. “It demonstrates the world-class quality of our tire.”
Kumho also will be a sponsor of the Summer and Winter X Games, which are televised on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC.
It will run advertising on those TV networks during the games, along with advertising on the ESPN Internet site, ads in “ESPN: The Magazine” and on-site exposure and local dealer events. Other TV spots will be on CBS and SpeedChannel for the ALMS and CORR races.
The marketing effort also will include retail promotions; local dealer interactive opportunities at races; hospitality areas; use of drivers and cars for dealer trade shows; consumer and trade magazine ads; Internet marketing; and dealer communications.
Kumho plans to introduce its Ecsta AST all-season tire in April, if all sizes are ready for distribution by then. The tire will offer asymmetrical grooves for improved traction and wear; new belt cord for improved durability; and new bead construction for better uniformity. It will be available in 16 sizes ranging from 15- to 18- inch rim diameters.
The tire firm also updated its Retail Dealer Promotions Toolbox for 2006. The four options are:
* The Kumho Petit Le Mans Xperience Sweepstakes, offering a grand prize of a trip for two to the annual Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, with airfare and accommodations at the Chateau Elan Winery and Resort.
Other prizes include 10 sets of Kumho tires, 100 MP3 players and 1,000 Kumho travel bags. The program started Jan. 15 and runs through Oct. 31, and is 100-percent funded by Kumho.
* The Xpress Yourself Giveaway, also fully funded by Kumho, which gives buyers a choice of either noise-reducing headphones, a pair of RPJ sunglasses or a $40 rebate when buying a set of selected Ecsta or Road Venture tires.
* Xpress your Inner Warrior offers purchasers of selected tires get two free tickets and hats for the Street Warriorz events. The series will be coming to 18 markets this year.
* Advo Direct Marketing Program allows dealers to send out direct mailings in conjunction with Advo for 4.5 cents per mailing.