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When Ads Get it Way, Way Wrong

02/10/2015 01:14 EST | Updated 04/12/2015 05:59 EDT
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If you can't say you're first, second or third in the industry, you had better have a specific niche to capitalize on to stay competitive -- customer service, exceptional quality or legacy sales all work. Regardless of how your business reached, or fell, to that position, you still have to be careful and crafty in how your brand is perceived. When the market share barbarians are knocking on your door it is imperative to reinforce it with the steel straps of strong branding.

Firestone is one of the world's oldest car tire manufacturers and a phenomenal example of a company that has managed to overcome nasty obstacles, albeit most of them caused by themselves. By the '70s the company found itself with an over-diversified portfolio and lackluster core products after years of poor management. As executives let the good times roll they didn't see the wall approaching them at the speed of sound, by the '80s they were losing hundreds of millions per year. A new CEO instituted creative accounting and massive austerity measures resulting in the firms sale to Japanese competitor Bridgestone who brought their new acquisition back to profitability in 1992.

From a marketing share perspective, Firestone is eternally a brand stuck in the middle, unable to catch competitors like Goodyear and Michelin while never distancing themselves enough from other followers like Uniroyal and Cooper to carve their own niche. They are a brand stuck in the middle by their past hubris and their current marketing seems to never have escaped prior ownership.

Why waste marketing dollars on garbage creative like the following 30 second spot?

This advertisement is lazy creative and built on a poor premise in the permanently groggy, video-game playing husband and vindictive woman. This type of ad insults every segment, the woman comes off as vindictive, the man passive and boring, any thought of tires is secondary to the truly horrendous premise of this advertisement. Is this specific designed to attract women? Men? It's hard to say when the spot is insulting to every segment.

It is difficult to argue that the creative firm is even convinced this spot is any good, this whole 2014 series is a disappointing palette of messages without direction for Firestone, they went skeet shooting with bow and arrow. Leo Burnett's team has put out numerous quality ads in multiple industries but their Firestone series is a total fizzle.

What They Should Have Done

From the series perspective: Hold a single message.

From the perspective of this particular ad: Either make it clever or change the premise.

This ad tried to reduce an idea into a 30-second spot, with more time it could have been clever and that's what they should have aimed for here. Instead of the lazy husband and angry wife, why not go for a situation where they're trying to run over increasingly harder and pointier objects? This isn't an unknown ad style but it would be more effective and funny if they kept upping the ante to, say, a dishwasher.

Make it light-hearted and create a fun visual experience because buying tires certainly isn't up on anyone's list of a perfect Saturday afternoon. Focus on the positive aspects of the product instead of opening the ad with a negative stereotype, consumers know when they're being spoken down to and this spot plays hard on condescension.

Taking a look at the other ads in this series shows a lack of understanding when it comes to target market and distinct messaging. Some of the ads seem to target mothers, others look to attract construction workers, another is trying to sell horses instead of tires. They're trying to see what will stick but a brand that's been around this long should be on a first name basis with 300-million Americans. It's a weird mix of ads that Firestone is currently trying to brand itself on and they're not helping themselves by avoiding a central and powerful message.

Holding the middle can be considered a strong position in the short and mid-term but when you're floundering to find any message that sticks, it's probably a bad idea to insult potential customers. Firestone's insistence on pushing a fairly decent product on a mediocre ad platform won't fend off Cooper and Uniroyal forever. If Firestone continues its lackluster performance it won't be long before they become another tarnished American legacy like Pontiac.

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