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Photo Gallery: New ´Spirit´ at Goodyear

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AKRON—Goodyear christened its newest blimp ``Spirit of Innovation´´ following a naming contest for the airship that elicited 21,000 unique names.

The blimp, which will be based in Pompano Beach, Fla., joins Goodyear´s fleet of Akron-based Spirit of Goodyear and Carson, Calif.-based Spirit of America blimps. Spirit of Innovation replaces Stars & Stripes, which crashed during a thunderstorm last summer in Florida.

Lesa France Kennedy, president of International Speedway Corp. and a member of NASCAR´s board of directors, christened the blimp along with Lynn Keegan, wife of Goodyear Chairman and CEO Robert Keegan. About 1,500 spectators gathered June 21 in Goodyear´s Wingfoot Lake Airship Hangar near Akron for the christening. The blimp was scheduled to fly alongside the Spirit of Goodyear, but approaching thunderstorms prevented the flight.

Myron Mullett, who worked on Goodyear´s blimp program in the 1950s, brought his 8-year-old grandson and blimp fan Bryce Donelan, who wore a Goodyear Aviation hat and played with an inflatable blimp toy. ``It´s almost like a part of the family,´´ Mr. Mullett said of the Akron blimp, which regularly passes his nearby house.

The sentiment is the same with Goodyear executives. Jon Rich, president of the tire maker´s North American Tire unit, said he gets many letters from people remarking how much they enjoy the blimps.

``Nothing is more important than our brand and the name Goodyear,´´ Mr. Rich told Tire Business. ``Goodyear customers equate the blimp with Goodyear, so it´s just great marketing for us. So we continue to not only put great products out in the market but continue to put the marketing and advertising behind it. We need to have those products be successful and the blimps are one piece of it.´´

Only a few years ago when Goodyear was in the midst of a difficult financial turnaround, some attention turned to the expensive blimp program as the tire maker was looking to massively cut costs. In fact, just months after Goodyear announced its turnaround plans in 2003, the California blimp crashed and had to be repaired. The company does not comment on the specific cost of the program, but Mr. Rich said it was not a contender for the chopping block.

``We never really seriously contemplated that decision,´´ he said. ``Blimps have been part of Goodyear for a long time. Goodyear is tires first and blimps second, and it´s all part of the total marketing and advertising that we do to get people excited about Goodyear products.´´

Mr. Keegan affirmed the point, saying, ``We think it´s a very good (advertising) medium or believe me, we wouldn´t use it.´´

The name for the new blimp also fits handily in that marketing plan. With product launches the last few years, Goodyear has been trying to solidify a role as an industry innovator to both consumers and dealers. Its most recent dealer meeting in February carried the theme ``Mission: Innovation,´´ a reference to the Mission: Impossible movies.

``(The blimp name) validates what we´ve been doing these past few years, I think it validates the fact that we´re an innovative company because it´s chosen by consumers,´´ Mr. Keegan told reporters following the christening. ``Consumers see us as an innovative company....That´s the American public´s choice, not ours.´´

The winning name was submitted by Matthew Harrelson of Uniontown, Ohio. As the grand prize winner, he will receive use of the blimp for a day.

The contest ran from April 11-30. A panel of Goodyear judges selected 10 finalists based on certain criteria, and those names were voted on by consumers and Goodyear judges from May 7-31.

Those who submitted the other nine finalist names will receive a set of Goodyear tires. Those names included: American Dream, Freedom, Liberty, Patriot, Patriot of Peace, Pride of America, Spirit of Endurance, Spirit of Ingenuity and Spirit of Peace.

Asked if Goodyear will host a similar contest for perhaps a fourth blimp, Mr. Rich laughed.

``We´ll cross that bridge when we get to it,´´ he said.

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