Firestone prepares effort to rebuild damaged brand

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Bridgestone/ Firestone Inc. will attempt early in 2001 to revive its sagging Firestone brand with a national image-building TV campaign, using a spokesman to highlight the company's commitment to safety, reliability and trust, company executives told independent dealers at a recent gathering.

The Firestone brand-the third-best-selling aftermarket brand in the U.S.-suffered 40% sales declines in September and October in the wake of a recall of 6.5 million tires widely used on sport utility vehicles and pick-ups, primarily Ford Motor Co.'s Explorer.

The so-called P-metric light-truck tires, which suffer tread separation, have been implicated in more than 4,300 accidents in recent years that resulted in at least 148 deaths, according to U.S. government data. Bridgestone/Firestone voluntarily recalled the tires Aug. 9, and has replaced nearly 85% of them.

The campaign, to debut early in 2001, will evoke memories of a series of safety-oriented public-service-type ads the company ran in the 1970s that featured actor Jimmy Stewart as the Firestone spokesman, said Shu Ishibashi, president of Bridgestone/ Firestone's U.S. consumer-tire unit. That campaign, from Murray & Chaney, Hudson, Ohio, started in 1978 and ran for about three years. It featured the slogan, "The most important things they make are friends"; the new campaign will be built around the idea, "Working hard to earn your trust every day." Grey Worldwide, New York, is Bridgestone/Firestone's agency.

Bridgestone/Firestone has not settled on a spokesman for the effort, but presented a storyboard idea to 4,000 attendees of its national dealer meeting. The storyboards featured a character reminiscent of Paul Newman, who is a co-owner of a CART racing team. Firestone is the exclusive tire supplier to CART-Championship Auto Racing Teams-and the company also recently featured leading CART and IndyCar racing drivers in national newspaper ads promoting the company's quality concerns.

The image-building campaign will be preceded this month by a consumer-safety message, calling attention to the completion of the recall and the company's efforts to correct the situation and regain consumer trust.

Mr. Davis is special-projects reporter with Tire Business. Jean Halliday in Detroit contributed.

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