Last year's European print ad by Young & Rubicam London of U.S. Olympic runner Carl Lewis sporting red high heels under the slogan "Power is nothing without control" has led Pirelli to take Mr. Lewis global.
The new global TV, print and poster campaign for Milan-based Pirelli features Mr. Lewis-barefoot, this time-breaking this month.
"The [tire] market is becoming global and products are becoming global," said Giancarlo Rocco, Pirelli's worldwide director of communications. "Pirelli's strategy is global and advertising should be in line with this."
In regional pitches around the world last year, the popular high heels ad helped sell Pirelli subsidiaries on both the idea of worldwide advertising and the appointment of Y&R, the company's European agency for three years. In the United States, for example, Y&R's New York and London offices pitched against Lowe Group, New York, and Chiat Day, Los Angeles, and incumbent Brighton, a small Irvine, Calif., agency.
"Pirelli awarded Y&R the business on the basis of the red-heeled shoes," said Emma Brock, Y&R's London account director on Pirelli.
The new campaign by lead agency Y&R London continues the theme "Power is nothing without control." Set against a striking New York cityscape, Mr. Lewis runs through water, dives off a bridge, and leaps through the air. The spot aims to demonstrate in human form the way a tire holds the road through water and turns tight corners.
Initially a tiny form vaulting along a spike on the Statue of Liberty's crown, up close Mr. Lewis is clearly clad in a tire-patterned black rubber one-piece track suit. When he lifts his feet, the soles are tire treads.
"It develops the idea of Carl Lewis using the wrong equipment [in the red heels ad] to highlight the benefits of using the correct equipment," Ms. Brock said. "He becomes almost the personification of the tire."
Pirelli has already been using an international slogan "The art of satisfying customers. Worldwide," for an ongoing institutional campaign created in-house for the financial and business markets in publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, Mr. Rocco said.
Pirelli ranks sixth in the highly competitive $52.8 billion world tire market with sales of $2.8 billion, after Michelin, Bridgestone, Goodyear, Continental and Sumitomo, according to European Rubber Journal's Global Tire Report. Almost half of the company's sales are in the $14 billion European tire market, where Pirelli has a 9.2% market share. Michelin, the world leader with sales of $9.5 billion, dominates the European market with a 31.7% market share.
To prepare itself to become a stronger international contender, Pirelli last year started a three-year program to increase the number of product introductions and cut product development time in half.
The runner's photo also appears on promotional material to car dealers. Pirelli is focusing on getting top-of-the-line tires onto new cars-a segment called original equipment that comprises 38% of the market-but the Carl Lewis ads aren't specifically aimed at dealers.
"[Original equipment] sales don't need advertising," Mr. Rocco said. "You need technology. You'll never convince OE customers to buy tires because you do good ads."
Tire makers make little money on OE sales but try to get their tires on new cars with the idea that when drivers replace tires they are likely to stick with the same brand.