2019 MOY: Fountain Tire’s Denise Gohl-Eacrett tackles shopper angst

How the marketer is making lives (and tire purchases) more comfortable and convenient.

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This story originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of strategy.

No one’s idea of a fun shopping expedition involves a trip to the tire store to drop hundreds of dollars on a non-fun purchase. Seven years ago Denise Gohl-Eacrett took on the challenge of changing that perception when she joined the Edmonton-based Fountain Tire chain.

Gohl-Eacrett tells strategy she was attracted to Fountain Tire for several reasons — but mostly for the opportunity to “stretch up and out” at a privately held company where everybody wears many hats and can lead different projects for its 160 nation-wide stores. Working alongside Fountain Tire’s agency partners, the director of brand and customer experience has driven much-needed change at the 63-year-old company with the addition of a digital consumer support group, which she says almost doubled in size over the last year.

“That was a big change, especially in terms of how we deliver the brand to our customer,” she says. Fountain Tire also switched up its agency partnerships, introducing new national and regional marketing agencies including creative AOR FCB Canada, digital experience partner Pound & Grain, PR firm Covalent and Trigger Communications.

The new slate of agencies was imperative to the brand’s evolution, says Gohl-Eacrett.

“It was critical that we picked the right type of partners to work with us to push the envelope,” she recalls, adding that her own role has seen a shift. “There’s been a complete shift in the in-store experience and how we [create a more] digital experience rather than say, tire racks.”

Staying relevant in the digital age has been top-of-mind for the director, along with rebranding the company known best for its humorous spots and down-to-earth look — something she said began to shift in 2017 when it started working with FCB.

Prior to its new focus, Fountain Tire relied on price and promotion-based marketing that front-loaded humour in favour of strategy, she says. But, in order to differentiate, the company needed to lean into its customer-focused purpose that strives for “whatever makes their lives easier and whatever makes their lives more comfortable.” So, it shifted its focus to campaigns that reiterate that mission of putting customers first — including ones in a younger demographic.

This meant moving away from its longtime brand mascot — a.k.a “The Goodyear Guy” played by actor Thom Sharp and one of the longest-running spokespersons — to develop a platform based on customer research and feedback. While Fountain Tire’s previous creative may have included saving a customer stranded on a desert island, or Sharp promoting Fountain Tire deals while in the middle seat of a long-haul flight, today’s ads focus more on the brand’s ability to be “on the road” with its customers.

Gohl-Eacrett acknowledges tires and automotive parts are tough categories to win hearts. “Tires are a grudge purchase. And so getting customers to be proactive — even if it’s paramount to their safety — can be a challenge,” she says, adding that Fountain Tire moved towards a brand purpose with deeper roots within the community.

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“We went through consumer research, looked at data trends and our position from a customer’s perspective, we [conducted] stakeholder interviews, we talked to our customers to understand their needs and motivations were when it came to tire or auto-related decisions, and we consulted with our store owners and managers.”

As a result, the brand repositioned its conversations with stakeholders to reflect their shared interests, launching the “We’re On This Road Together” platform in 2018. Ads showed the type of trusted relationship Fountain Tire can provide customers, and resulted in an unaided awareness increase of 18%, while sales grew 12.5%.

The masterbrand platform debuted a few months after the award-winning “Safest Highway” campaign, which was the company’s first effort to shift perceptions around Fountain Tire (and tires in general). It addressed the fact that worn tires account for 26.2% of accidents in poor driving conditions, and brought attention to the importance of vehicle safety and maintenance. Working with FCB, the team used 3D-image mapping to gauge the quality of vehicle tires as they drove into a gas station along Alberta’s most dangerous highway. Tires that missed the mark were replaced, on the spot, by the retailer.

A year later, the “Truck-Thru” campaign launched to address another concern (downtime) for its commercial customer. “The majority of our business is commercial, and one of the things that we wanted to do was make sure our brand comes to life for [those] customers,” she says. The inspiration for the “Truck-Thru” campaign was the insight that downtime costs the commercial trucking industry $35 billion a year.

“We wanted to tackle that by approaching one of Canada’s busiest trucking routes and amplify that activation with a very small, but really targeted media strategy.”

Fountain Tire zeroed in on the cost of downtime with a 20-foot drive-thru kiosk specifically designed for oversized vehicles, offering free coffee and snacks. The stunt was promoted directly to truckers through highway ads, pamphlets at rest-stops and announcements on CB radio.

The campaign helped increase commercial sales by $4.6 million.

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According to Gohl-Eacrett, the brand captured a weeks-worth of data on the speed that trucks moved through the truck-thru, and helped decrease the cost of downtime from $760 to $40 per vehicle. The activation has since been requested by trucking companies across the country.

Another home-run for the companywas its “Fanbods” campaign, which highlighted its Canadian pride with a focus on NHL hockey team, the Edmonton Oilers.

The campaign featured Fountain Tire employees being good sports by “donating their bodies” to Oilers fans and painting a letter of the alphabet on each of their bodies so that fans didn’t have to go through the trouble — and the soap. The ad included a microsite that allowed fans to create “Fan Bod” cheers, which were then turned into GIFs that could be shared on social media. Fans were also offered a free oil change.

According to Gohl-Eacrett, the campaign evolved beyond the Edmonton Oilers and became a North American-wide platform for the NHL, with the interface being used by fans from 24 of its 31 NHL teams in seven out of 10 Canadian provinces and 13 states in the U.S.

As for the future, the company is gearing up for the launch of its second Western Hockey League (WHL) and Ontario Hockey League (OHL) sponsorship. Although minor in comparison to its sponsorship of the Oilers, the company chose the leagues so it could better align with smaller markets, says Gohl-Eacrett.

“We’re also bringing in the component of the partnerships and this really localized approach called the ‘Three Stars,’” which honours volunteerism in Canadian communities. It’s a campaign that speaks to Gohl-Eacrett’s vision for a customer-focused, partnership-driven look — and one that signals a smooth course into the future of the brand.

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