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COMPETITIVE advertising is nasty fun.

That's when the marketers play hard ball. They name names.

Wendy's is better than McDonald's and Burger King. Burger King is better than McDonald's.

Pepsi tops Coke in the Pepsi Challenge.

These ads are delicious because, as we watch, we know the price of a misstep is a fat slander or false advertising case. Attack ads come much closer to exposing what competitors really think about each other than those genteel ads full of praise, but no blame.

Now Dunlop Tire Corp. is getting nasty. "Dunlop Beats Goodyear" declares advertising starting today on ESPN, radio stations and in automotive magazines.

And over in Akron, Ohio -- Rubber City, U.S.A. -- the marketers at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. are really peeved.

Chief spokesman Walter McClenny blows off a little steam, not for publication, before he says, carefully, "We are very carefully considering action."

Can you say fat slander or false advertising case?

McClenny won't say.

He intimates the action could take the form of a power marketing counter-punch. Or it could pursue more official channels.

Or maybe Dunlop and Goodyear could just settle this with some sort of atavistic joust, with each marketer rolling a tire across the Baja Peninsula in the hot sun, until one marketer drops and chews the desert sand.

"They did some very strange things with this," McClenny says. "It comes a very, very long way from having any scientific application to any kind of test procedure."


Bruce E. Sukennik, director of advertising for Dunlop, is a decorous man.

"We do not attack Goodyear in any way, shape or form," he says innocently. "All we are doing in this campaign is reporting the results of a test by an independent body."

Look at how thoughtful Dunlop was with the data. The bar graphs in the magazine ads show Goodyear performed at 100 percent every time. On every single test -- steering response, cornering traction, braking performance, you name it -- Goodyear performed perfectly.

But Dunlop did better than perfect. Dunlop's performances ranged from 146 percent to 200 percent.

Consider the ad campaign in question. Briefly, it makes these claims.

A tire test pitted the Dunlop D40 M2 tire against the Goodyear Eagle ZR. The D40 M2 is Dunlop's top-of-the-line high performance tire, selling for around $200. It is original equipment on the new Nissan 300 ZK and the rare new Porsche 959, and a variation of the tire is original equipment on the new Mercedes 500 SL.

The Goodyear Eagle ZR is a comparable tire that is original equipment on new Corvettes, among other cars.

Given that the Eagle ZR is a Corvette tire, it was most devilish of Dunlop to get the National Council of Corvette Clubs to sanction a showdown between the two tires, allowing Dunlop to say the tests were independent. Ten drivers from a Corvette club in California drove on slalom courses under wet and dry conditions, and on highways.

The drivers never knew which tires they were driving, but they each drove sets of both tires, according to Sukennik.

Ten out of 10 said the Dunlop tires were better, according to Dunlop.

"We were quite honestly surprised that 10 out of 10 picked Dunlop," said William H. Newell, a vice president of Vickers & Benson/FKQ, Dunlop's advertising agency, which created the ads.

Dunlop was predicting about seven or eight out of 10 would select Dunlop, Sukennik said.

Dunlop fired competitive advertising at Goodyear for the same reason other companies use that marketing gambit. Goodyear is the market leader, and Dunlop is several slots below it in market share.

As a rule, market leaders never use competitive advertising. They have little to gain.

But Dunlop, like other market challengers, wants people to compare it to the leader, Sukennik said. "Even if we lose, we're still in the same ring as Goodyear," he said.

Competitive advertising also is the least expensive way for a marketer to create a big impact. That was important to Dunlop, because its ad budget is dwarfed by Goodyear's.

"This is the Pepsi challenge of the tire business," Sukennik said. "That got Pepsi a lot of market share, and we expect it will do the same for us more than anything else we could have done."

Sukennik said he is not worried about any challenge of the test's veracity. He says the data to back up the claims are available for inspection.

The gauntlet is down. Baja is beckoning. The tire wars are on.

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