The GOODYEAR Blimp – Old-fashioned Advertising in the Digital Age
Tyre makers, just like every other consumer goods manufacturers, need to do effective marketing, prompted by growing global competition and savvy consumers. They spend millions of dollars annually to advertise in TV, print, digital and retail advertising and by sponsoring motor sports events. Michelin, the world leader in premium tyre segment, has used its Michelin Man, which becomes something of a superhero, tossing tyres from his belly to battle evil petrol pumps.
The Michelin Man was conceived by André Michelin in 1898, when he thought about modifying a picture of a bearded giant raising his beer mug, with a man made of a pile of tyres and holding a cup filled with nails and broken glass, with a tag line “The Michelin Tyre Drinks up Obstacles”. Since then, the Michelin man has gone through many iterations to the current version.
All of us, kids to adults, like a blimp! The soft, pillow-like things just look friendly, as they slowly fly around with an advertising message plastered on the sides. For that reason alone, blimps have proven to be one of the best marketing tools ever devised.
The archetype, of course, is the Goodyear blimp. The first Goodyear blimp took to the skies in 1925 and the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. now owns a U.S. fleet of three, which the company hangars in California, Ohio and Florida. A fourth is based in China. Goodyear has operated as many as eight at a time since its first commercial ship, the Pilgrim, flew in 1925.
The older versions were giant helium balloons, while the latest versions incorporate rigid frame to help support the envelope. These new giants measure 246 feet in length (50 feet longer than their predecessors).
They are also packed with state-of-the-art avionics and a computerized flight control system rather than the legacy manual controls of older models. These can fly at 75 MPH, 50% faster than the previous ones, and they also can hover in place, a desirable feature for broadcasters! So rather than continuously circling over an event, only providing the best shot angles intermittently, the new thrust vectoring propulsion enables a blimp to remain in place for however long the broadcast’s director requires.
A top-notch helium blimp costs more than $12 million, while Goodyear’s new blimps may cost over $20 million each. Then there are additional expenses – Goodyear also employs three crews of 16 to fly and maintain them. And that does not include storage facilities or the trucks and other ground support vehicles to move the blimp and its crew to different locations. Let’s say that the annual cost of operating a blimp is around $5 million to cover the cost of the crew, maintenance and fuel. Is it worth the expense?
Depending on where you’re flying, blimps can be seen by hundreds of thousands or millions of people a day. More than 60 million Americans see the Goodyear blimps first-hand every year, and many millions more see them on TV broadcasts. A 30-second ad during the Super Bowl football game broadcast costs about $4 million. Since the Goodyear name get mentioned several times, and the logo is seen by millions of viewers worldwide, it is easy to see why Goodyear considers it a good investment, and its 87-year history of using blimps to market the company would seem to agree.
The Florida Orange Bowl football game every January typically has 10 million viewers. Goodyear’s logo gets shown several times throughout the broadcast, and it gets announced that the Goodyear blimp is providing aerial coverage for the event. “That is a huge value,” Doug Grassian, spokesman for Goodyear in Pompano Beach, said of the ESPN numbers. He says even though advertisers and marketers often look to social media these days, the blimp is just as good a tool, if not better. The exposure they are looking for, of course, is for Goodyear tyres. The greater the exposure, they hope, the greater the tyre sales.
The three U.S. blimps cover 100 national sporting events a year, Grassian said. Because sports has such a large presence in Florida — college football and basketball, professional football, major league baseball, professional tennis — the Pompano blimp is the busiest.
Any company, wishing to use a blimp for advertising, would need a long-term planning process, since there are only 25 or so full-sized blimps in the world, making it hard to find one available for ad campaigns. Companies need to use creative ways to measure ROI, since blimps don’t offer the kind of direct measurements that, say, an email marketing campaign offers. And they need money … lots of money. Between preparation and the cost of fuel, helium and crew, a blimp isn’t cheap. Blimp leasing cost is estimated at around $350,000 a month.
Hopefully, more tyre companies will try emulating Goodyear with blimp marketing!