Esuvee campaign draws coverage, critics

NEW YORK: Peppercom "rolled out" an 11-month, $27 million campaign to promote SUV safety last week by unveiling a monstrous, 10-foot tall mascot at a Central Park press conference.

NEW YORK: Peppercom "rolled out" an 11-month, $27 million campaign to promote SUV safety last week by unveiling a monstrous, 10-foot tall mascot at a Central Park press conference.

The hairy beast is named "Esuvee," and its role is to draw the attention of 18-34 year old men to the issue of SUV safety.

Peppercom is working on behalf of all 50 state governments, as well as DC, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The integrated effort is funded by settlement money from Ford, which was sued by states two years ago for using dangerous Firestone tires.

Besides running the kickoff press conference, which featured three state attorneys general and an automotive expert from Consumers Union, Peppercom will field street teams with informative literature, flood blogs and chat rooms, and stage "SUV safety days" at events across the country in the coming year. The promotions, along with a substantial ad push, are designed to draw traffic to the campaign's website, esuvee.com, which contains information and tips about how to operate the vehicles safely.

Ann Barlow, a Peppercom partner and senior director, said that the agency will also pitch the media on story angles relating to the campaign each month. "As you can imagine, this campaign lends itself to that kind of thing," she said.

The agency is also working on a Latino outreach element of the campaign, and working to form partnerships with any groups that align themselves with the target young male demographic, said Barlow.

The unveiling of the campaign generated widespread media pickup, but auto advocacy groups did not let the message pass unchallenged. Ron Defore, a principal and founder of Stratacomm who serves as communication director for the SUV Owners of America (SUVOA), an auto industry advocacy group, said that the safety campaign paints an unfair picture of the vehicles.

"What we object to that we've seen so far is the icon that they've chosen for this campaign, this huge beast," Defore said. "It perpetuates the myth that the largest of the SUV's are somehow these very dangerous vehicles."

Defore cited research showing low fatality rates for large SUV's. He said that the SUVOA would actively counter the Esuvee campaign's messages in the coming year, but he declined to discuss specific strategies.

Stratacomm clients include General Motors, The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and Ford.

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