Goodyear Refreshes Its Fat, Floating Marketing Strategy

The newest Goodyear blimp introduced at Goodyear's airship base in Suffield, Ohio on March 14 Photograph by PRNewsfoto via AP Photo

The world’s biggest floating billboard is now longer, faster, and more maneuverable. It’s the Usain Bolt of blimps, though it’s still … well … fat and slow.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber pulled the cover off a new airship today in Suffield, Ohio, about a year after it began piecing (sewing?) the craft together. The construction site looked like a mash-up between a Viking boatyard and a NASA shuttle hangar.

Goodyear has built about 300 blimps, but it hasn’t significantly updated the design in 45 years, meaning the previous model essentially debuted not long after “Broadway” Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl victory. The company typically keeps three blimps around the country and has one in China. Goodyear deploys them during a lot of major events including college football games, the Kentucky Derby, and parades.

At 246 feet, the new blimp is about one-quarter longer than its predecessor and it can carry up to 12 passengers, rather than seven. What’s more, this one has computers! Goodyear retired the fly-by-wire system that had been used for the past 80 years. It can also motor at 73 miles per hour, up from 54, which will let Goodyear cover more events.

So what do blimps have to do with a rubber empire that sells 163 million tires a year? Not a whole lot. The blimp isn’t even made out of rubber; it’s mostly aluminum, composite fibers, and polyurethane bladders. And Goodyear doesn’t mention its blimp business in its SEC filings (though the new one cost about $21 million).

But it is a unique advertising strategy. The ship floats over a lot of Nascar races and it’s far less creepy than the Michelin Man. Plus, a “Goodyear drone” just sounds ominous.

Goodyear says the only thing it collects for its panoramic stadium shots are name recognition and goodwill.

Test pilots will put the new blimp through its paces this spring—you know, floating up, turning, floating down. It will hit the stadium circuit this summer. Keep an eye out for it. Despite the overhaul, you’ll know it when you see it.

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