Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. wasn't seeking, yet it has found a hip spokesman who just might lead more youth to buy the Cooper brand than any seasoned tire dealer.
In April, Findlay-based Cooper signed hip-hop DJ Funkmaster Flex to a year-long endorsement partnership with the purpose of appealing to the custom car crowd in the age 18 to 25 demographic, according to Pat Brown, Cooper vice president of global branding and communications.
The celebrity spokesman is a DJ on Hot 97 FM in New York City and the host of two TV shows, Spike TV's ``Ride with Funkmaster Flex'' and ESPN2's ``All Muscle with Funkmaster Flex.'' He also created the ``Funkmaster Flex Custom Car & Bike Show,'' which is in its fifth year of touring the U.S. Flex's tour takes him to venues such as the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show and the Number One Parts Inc. (NOPI) compact car show in Atlanta.
Through the partnership, Cooper's new interactive mobile unit with its high-performance marketing exhibits will travel to several of Flex's car shows. At this year's NOPI and SEMA shows, Cooper and Flex will make appearances together.
``He really is influential among the car enthusiasts and the people who trick out the vehicles, and we think that's a very good fit,'' Ms. Brown said of Flex.
Since Cooper rolled out its new logo and edgy, hard rock commercials at last year's SEMA Show, the tire maker has been determined to reach young buyers who are willing to pay big bucks for high-performance tires and custom wheels. Ms. Brown said today's youth have the potential to become the next generation of loyal Cooper customers if Cooper can impress brand awareness with them.
``Those are the times that we believe that you can influence people to make a long-term commitment to your brand or to have a long-term awareness of your brand if you resonate with them early in their buying career,'' she said. ``Traditionally, people who buy Cooper tires are repeat buyers.''
Enter Flex, a celebrity among young car enthusiasts who approached Cooper about putting the Zeon XST tire on the vehicles he ``dresses up'' on his TV shows. Ms. Brown said Flex liked the Zeon product line and liked the ways Cooper was portraying its brand to the marketplace. The endorsement is only for a year because Cooper believes that ``what's hip and cool today may not be hip and cool tomorrow,'' Ms. Brown said, and the company wants to be on the ``cutting edge'' with its brand.
Up until the 21st century, ``stodgy'' was perhaps a more apt way to describe Cooper's broadline brand as opposed to ``hip'' and ``cool.'' Ms. Brown did not dispute that assessment, but she pointed to the ways the tire maker has been trying to transform its brand through motorsports involvement, a high-performance product portfolio, collegiate athletics sponsorships and now Flex's endorsement.
``We do see an increased awareness of the Cooper brand among everyone actually,'' she said. ``I think people are taking a fresh look at our brand.''
The tire maker also isn't ignoring older consumers, Ms. Brown said, as Cooper's advertising and marketing efforts for collegiate sports and motorsports ``transcend all ages.''
Jack Trout, president of the marketing firm Trout & Partners Ltd. in Old Greenwich, Conn., told Tire Business that it's difficult for a company to change its image from stodgy to hip, and tires have always been a hard sell because people are more interested in cars than tires.
Mr. Trout admitted he was not familiar with Funkmaster Flex or what Cooper's strategy is, but he emphasized that a celebrity endorsement is only as good as the story behind the product and how well the celebrity's credentials fit with the product.
``You have to go beyond just hiring a celebrity,'' Mr. Trout said. ``There has to be a story there, technology story, something they've done that makes it hot and cool.''
Ms. Brown said Cooper always has had a product story, but historically has been a quiet company that didn't talk about its achievements.
``We have been a solid brand for years and years,'' she said. ``That worked for us for a long time. As you know, marketing changes, attitudes change, techniques change. The idea of being able to market the same way you marketed 10 years ago, 15 years ago, just isn't going to work in today's very fresh world.''