Building An Icon
The Nike Swoosh. The McDonalds Golden Arches. The Chevy Bowtie.
When you see them, you know them. Decades and billions of dollars are dedicated to make a ride on the freeway or, a walk in a park, a frequent subliminal reminder of how worthy a given brand is of your time.
Firestone is just beginning to invest in the icon you see here. What do you think?
The idea behind it is…
“You’re not driving a car, you’re driving a Firestone.”
The slogan has been enunciated, imprinted, and emblazoned on tens of thousands of advertisements over the past year. Print. Online. TV. Cable. Radio. The owners of Firestone are trying to make your used car, a Firestone car.
This is obviously a tall leap when it comes to brand identification; which is why Firestone has such a painfully challenging road for their new ‘F’ icon. For over 100 years cars have been identified by their marque. Mercedes-Benz. Cadillac. Honda. These brands not only exude a high level of awareness in the new car market, but an equally unique and compelling level of prestige in popular culture.
Mercedes symbolizes wealth. Even those who are financially struggling like to pretend they’re rich by owning one. From country clubs to rap videos. Everyone knows a Mercedes.
Cadillac is the king of American luxury. From the 1930’s when a ‘Cadillac’ referred to a gram of cocaine. To the 1960’s where a Cadillac ranch would undoubtedly have a matching Cadillac in the garage. To even the mansions of today where a lot of folks are still willing to pay for the Cadillac of SUV’s.
Honda symbolizes Japanese engineering and enduring quality. The Honda of minivans in today’s advertising world is a mere continuation of the quality people you met 50 years ago on a Honda Scooter. Honda is quality incarnate thanks to a continuous advertising campaign that has always hammered away at that virtue.
Firestone has been popularized for their tires and their auto repair centers. Billions of tires sold. 10,000+ auto repair centers. A long winning history with NASCAR and a common sight on most rolling commercial roadfronts of the modern day, Firestone is an instantly recognizable name.
However that seems to be part of the problem. For nearly a century you needed to see the whole name to see the Firestone logo.
The full name of yesterday is now given an automotive emblem for today — along with a shift in identification from products and services for a used car, to the car itself.
Can a car wear two badges? Three? Four? If so, how can you put value into products and services that are usually catered to the non-enthusiast?
Is Firestone seeking to gradually usurp the brand identities of used cars? Or are they trying to compliment the brand identity that is already there?
I have no clear understanding of where this road leads to. At the same time, this is likely not the fault of the company or the advertising agency. It takes years of a compelling vision, endless instillations of nuance, and a change in popular culture to make a brand truly iconic.
Can Firestone ever become an iconic brand? Or were they already there?
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Well, Firestone wanted "Firestone: like a rock. On fire." but Chevy complained. Supposedly, Bridgestone was chosen for the company's English name because the founder's name in Japanese was "stone bridge" and Bridgestone was similar to a brand already familiar all over the world. I think Bridgestone acquired Firestone because it wanted to establish a major presence in the US. The deal included the thousands of stores. As for Firestone, it found Bridgestone a better suitor than Pirelli. Somehow I recall seeing a comment by Consumer Reports that in recent years Firestone tires have generally tested well. And I've purchased several sets of Firestones lately and they've all been fine. I suspect Bridgestone made a commitment to improve Firestone tires and thereby regain a good reputation. It's hard to get customers into a Firestone store and be upsold to top-of-the-line Bridgestones if Firestone scares them away. I know I feel better about B F Goodrich tires because Michelin makes them. The "F" logo is fine, but I would have stuck with Firestone's original format. Of course, I love automotive history. Maybe someday Ford and Firestone would get back together again. Ol' Henry and Harvey were good pals, and later a Ford would marry a Firestone.
When your product is being assessed, the last thing you want to see is a big, red "F". Seriously, though, the best way to "build an icon" would be to manufacture and market top quality tires at a reasonable price, and take good care of the customers. In the long run, customer satisfaction and loyalty will pay off much better than a quickie ad campaign.