The chemists, scientists and engineers who make tires possible have to be extremely creative. On the business side, those who market and sell the finished products have to be just as creative—and in a completely different way.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world of sports, it made such marketing efforts that much more difficult. "Traditional" advertising and marketing that were tied to events, teams and leagues, long a central avenue for public awareness for tire makers, suddenly disappeared.
And it was not just the obvious sports, such as motorsports—now making a return—where the close relationship between the tire and vehicle made for an obvious tie-in. The marketing efforts extended to baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer, and to lesser known events such as Major League Fishing, where Continental still looks to sell its General-brand tires to owners of pickup trucks.
When these activities suddenly stopped, it wasn't easy for tire manufacturers to figure out new ways to keep their brands top of mind. Not only did the cancellation of sporting events take away the opportunity for TV ads and venue marketing, it stripped the industry of the coveted direct-to-consumer engagement activities. Conti, for example, takes a truck around the country to Major League Soccer venues to run on-site promotions.
Bridgestone also knows the value of connecting with sports fans, with its marketing activities ranging from racing to golf, from the NHL to the NFL. It had to be the most disappointed of any of the tire makers as one of its gems, the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, was postponed a year. Ever since it became a top level Olympic sponsor, the world's largest tire company had targeted the 2020 Olympics, slated to take place in its headquartered city, no less.
Company officials, though, realize we are living in a time like no other, and while they continue to try to boost brand awareness, they say they will do so "in a way that's appropriate for the times we're in."
Other tire companies also are doing some "out of the box" thinking with their marketing efforts. Cooper Tire embraced the world of virtual sports, leveraging its sponsorship of several motorsports' series into a marketing effort that involved e-series championships utilizing race simulators.
Kumho has leaned heavily on its relationship with the NBA to boost its brand awareness for the past six years. While it is on board with the NBA's upcoming season re-launch and subsequent playoffs, during the break it used its strong media content, along with social and digital programs, to continue to reach its target audience.
With the short-term future of spectator sports still in doubt—particularly those that involve fan attendance—it is likely that tire companies have learned some new tricks to ensure their brands are top of mind when it counts most: When the customer goes tire shopping.