By David Shaw, ERJ staff
London - Goodyear has begun a tour of Europe with two helium-filled airships, or blimps. The aim is to engage younger people with the Goodyear brand using a safety message.
Each of 20 countries is spending hugely to bring the airships to their respective countries. The UK, for example will spend around euro 2 million on the project, putting the total spend for the project at upwards of euro 30 million.
Goodyear has leased two small airships from former Virgin company Lightship. They were built specially for Goodyear in Cardington, in the UK. Cardington was the home of the hydrogen-filled R101 airship built in 1929 which crashed on its maiden voyage in 1930.
The two new airships are named Spirit of Safety-1 and Spirit of Safety-2. Both can carry a pilot and three passengers. That compares with the 12-seater airships more familiar in the United States under the Goodyear Blimp brand.
Today, three airships operate in the United States, with two new ones based in Europe and one based in the Far East.
Each of the European airships is leased on a 1-year contract, and Goodyear hopes to extend the contracts into the future, with the possibility of leasing larger airships in the future.
The project follows a pilot project in Benelux in 2010, where large numbers of young people used social media to tweet and blog about the airship as it flew over their locality. Kate Rock of Goodyear UK said, â€œIt was getting brand engagement with the younger target audience with whom we had not previously had a relationship - so it was seen as a succesful pilot and now we are trying it in all the countries in the European region across EMEA to see how it goes on a wider basis.â€
The Goodyear brand, said Rock, is seen as representing safety and security and traditionally appeals to an older audience. When young people responded so positively in Benelux, it was seen as an opportunity to engage with this audience throughout Europe.
Thus, each Goodyear country throughout the EMEA has been instructed to deliver a message based around safety, and to hang the campaign around the blimp's visit to their country. The emphasis is on using social media to connect with the younger audience.
Rock said Goodyear will review the response after the first blimp tour finishes in the Summer and then again after a second tour in October. â€œWe are doing pre- and post-research on people's acceptance of the blimp and their attitude to the brand, to analyse whether it was worth the millions and millions we are spending,â€ she said.
Over the last decade, Goodyear Blimps have been 'on tour' in the USA, Brazil and China, but this tour marks the first European tour since 1999. Between March and October, the Goodyear Blimp will visit 20 countries, with the tour starting in the UK.
One airship was launched in France and a second in the UK in mid-April. Rock said Goodyear's UK Twitter account saw an immediate increase in followers, growing to around 800 in the first couple of weeks of the campaign, whereas France won less than 100 followers in the first week.
Rock added that the UK followers were dominated by London residents, so the expectation is that more urban environments and those where smartphone penetration is high are likely to see a greater response.
Rock said the marketing teams in each country have been, â€œtasked to get key messages about road safety to consumers.â€ using the visit of the blimp to their respective countries.
In the UK the company found that many established drivers cannot answer correctly a number of questions based on the current driving test, so they aim to work with schools and national agencies to improve education among pre-drivers, with the aim of improving retention of key safety knowledge once they take their driving test.
In France, the company is working with the coastguard agency over the holiday period to remind drivers that cars and tyres need correct inspection and inflation prior to taking long, fully-laden journeys to the coast. The message will be reinforced with blimp flights over holiday resorts.
In Spain, Goodyear has fitted out a bus with key road safety messages and it is touring to theme parks, schools, and other venues to educate children about road safety.
The blimp will be used as a filming platform in London for the Royal wedding on 29 April, and will then move to the Netherlands for Queen's Day on 30 April. Goodyear Netherlands is setting up a website where residents can identify dangerous streets and campaign for lower speed limits, or better traffic calming methods. The company is working with verbeterjebuurt.nl (improve your neighbourhood) and speelstraten.be (safe play streets). Goodyear will be using their Safety Tour website as a way for residents to highlight road safety issues to these organisations.
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