Judging from the annual calendar that Italian tire brand Pirelli has been releasing since 1964, it prefers women to be wearing pretty much next to nothing and with a slightly pained or bored look on their faces.
The NSFW calendar went on hiatus from 1975-’83 due to the recession but it’s been rolling out the calendar each year since, hiring famed photographers (such as its 2015 calendar photog, Steven Meisel) and featuring such comely celebs as Sienna Miller, Naomi Campbell, Gisele Bündchen, Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Sophia Loren, Heidi Klum and a latex-clad Gigi Hadid (one of the least risqué images in its latest calendar, by the way—and click here to view its more feminist 2016 calendar).
None of these women are likely the target audience of the 140-year-old Pirelli’s latest public affairs campaign, as it turns out there is another group of women with a slightly pained look it’s targeting—those with a fear of changing flat tires, but who control the purse-strings when it comes to paying for them.
The tire-maker is partnering with O2 Media to drive awareness of tire safety to women during US National Tire Safety Week from May 24-30.
Part of the new “Tires for Life” campaign consists of Pirelli Tire North America Director of Public Affairs and Sustainability Maureen Kline and marketing and advertising exec Dori Seaman appearing on O2’s paid morning show, The Balancing Act, that runs on the Lifetime TV channel. The episode’s goal is to demonstrate “tire etiquette and educate women on how to check tire pressure, what to look for in tread wear and seasonal tire safety,” according to a press release.
The campaign is addressed at moms, who have a major sway over family spending (including when to replace car tires). In fact, as Pirelli states in its video segment for the campaign, more than half of tires in the US are purchased by women. At the same time, more than 80 percent of US car owners fail to check their tire pressure properly, let alone regularly.
The video is promoted with the copy: “Tires aren’t just a guy thing! Ladies, if you don’t know how to check your tire pressure or access tread wear, watch this Balancing Act segment with Pirelli to learn tire care and safety tips for women.” And its press release states, “Pirelli Tire will reinforce how they (the brand) value your family’s safety.”
At the same time that it’s reaching out to mothers, Pirelli has long featured women in its marketing—not as buyers or as drivers but as sex objects. Even now, its North American Instagram feed, for example, features models in photos such as the ones below: posing at race tracks (it’s the official tire supplier of Formula One) and also promoting its 2015 calendar, including Hadid.
It also shares an image from Someecards with the line, “Girls who love racing are not weird. They’re a rare gift from God. Those girls get bigger diamonds!!”
We’re guessing that mom behind the wheel above would want her daughter to grow up to be a Pirelli Tire girl. It all begs the question: Can a brand objectify women on one hand and want to help them out with the other? Does educating women on tire safety redeem how they’re portrayed in marketing materials?
Interestingly, as Maureen Kline, director of public affairs and sustainability for Pirelli Tire North America explains in The Balancing Act video above, the brand’s sustainability platform “spans environmental, social and governance issues. We track our carbon footprint for the tire, for the whole life cycle of every tire. We have important sustainability goals that we seek to achieve, and on the social front we do things like we provide scholarships to the children of the Indonesian farmers that we work with who farm the natural rubber, and we have a line of green performance tires.”
The brand challenge is that it makes tires for two audiences: Formula One drivers (primarily men) and racing fans (with women a growing part of that cohort) vs. drivers with baby formula (aka mom), which creates an uncomfortable disconnect between what it says it stands for in terms of corporate citizenship and honoring women, and what it shows the world.
If Pirelli really wants to appeal to its target consumer—women—it might take a page from two other brands now transitioning their businesses: GoDaddy (which has dropped its sexy Super Bowl ads with race car driver Danica Patrick) and Abercrombie & Fitch (which has been shedding its shirtless eye candy and going after older customers). It’s a brave move, but one worth considering if it really wants to empower women across the brand experience.