Goodyear and Michelin On Your Feet

January 16, 2006

Weíve long known that ingredient branding had legs, now its got shoes.

Two prominent tire companies have licensed out their brands as ingredient marks for sneakers. First Goodyear and Adidas partnered to create a series of driving shoes, prominently featuring the Goodyear ìWingfootî mark. Now Michelin offers their brand and some rubber technology to Babolat, a sporting goods company specializing in tennis equipment.

A look at each of these brands and what they give/get with a co-brand helps point to some of key issues brand partnerships can introduce.

Adidas does not need another brand to extend its presence in the sneaker market ñ even if it is a ìdriving shoeî and even if they can leverage Goodyearís automotive presence. With a brand built on performance, speed and German engineering, adding the Goodyear co-brand would seem to be unnecessary. As a novelty item, certainly nothing wrong in a partnership with Goodyear ñ but for the long-term, Adidas may compromise their ability to take the brand more aggressively into the automotive accessories space.

For Goodyear, getting your brand into consumersí hands in innovative ways is a good thing. Onto their feet is a great way to do that. The ingredient mark presented in conjunction with a leading sneaker brand becomes a great vehicle to positively extend the brand and drive some additional revenue. Perhaps Goodyear on the soles of your feet will make you think twice about the brand with your next tire purchase. And, a successful extension here paves the way for additional consumer-facing applications.

Very much a specialty brand in tennis with a number of pro sponsorships and a strong rep at the performance level in the sport. Shoes are the latest extension in sports equipment ñ and the goal, of course, would be to build a product that can successfully deliver on the high promise of the brand. Other strong tennis brands like Prince and Yonex have their own shoes, so Babolat seemed to need an entry here, too. Unfortunately, the Michelin partnership (and use of the Michelin mark) leverages the shared French DNA more than any performance aspect particular to shoes. The extra visibility that a Michelin co-brand may create certainly couldnít hurt. And it may be enough to differentiate from the other tennis brand competitors. Yet Babolat as an ingredient to an Adidas or to a brand like Converse could have been a very interesting (and bold) alternative strategy.

Some of the same positive effects as Goodyear here - but with a significantly less established player. Michelin does seem to be a bit more interested in touting the innovative consumer applications of its products ñ more so than the industrially focused Goodyear. But if they really thought about it, Babolat couldnít have been their first choice for a shoe partner. I donít see how partnering with a minor player in shoes advances any agenda they might have here. The only way this deal may make sense for Michelin is if it is non-exclusive, enabling them to truly develop an ingredient brand in the shoe category by developing similar deals with other manufacturers.

Presumably some of the dollars changing hands among the respective brands and their consumers can offer some indication of success. Yet, from my seat on the sidelines, the only clear winner I see here is Goodyear.

- Jonathan Paisner

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