If you don’t think the gang down at Bridgestone were doing the Fandango every time a camera zoomed in on Tiger’s (and, for a while, Snedeker’s) ball at the Valspar over the weekend, you may need to bone up on the fundamentals of marketing. That camera time is branding gold, and it’s why OEMs shell out the bucks to sponsor these guys.
And if you think about it, it probably explains why Bridgestone switched to the more visible B logo on its balls. Kind of hard to miss on your TV.
Don’t confuse branding with sales, however. There’s no way to quantify how many balls Bridgestone will sell as a result of Tiger’s camera time at the Valspar, his new commercial (You’re back there!) or even his sponsorship deal. But the more you see that B logo, the more you see Tiger many yards in front of his playing partners and the more you see that commercial, Bridgestone hopes the more you’ll think of Bridgestone as long, straight and the ball for you.
Of course, Titleist, Callaway, TaylorMade, Wilson, Vice, Snell, Volvik, OnCore, Cut and a cast of dozens spend a lot of money to get you to think the same thing about their balls. And the USGA wants you to think they all go too damn far.
But I digress.
With all that said, it's no accident Bridgestone has chosen today to release its Tour B X and XS balls – the ones you saw Sneds and Tiger playing yesterday – in yellow.
Call Me Mellow Yellow
A couple of weeks ago we saw Bridgestone test marketing a new driving iron, available in extremely limited quantities on Bridgestone’s website only. The new yellow Tour B balls are also a limited release and are available only on Bridgestone’s website.
According to Bridgestone, colored golf ball sales are now around 20% of total ball sales in the U.S. Bridgestone also says there’s a void of colored options for low handicappers who like Tour-level balls. A quick online check, however, says you can find the Srixon Z-Stars in yellow, the Callaway Chrome Soft in yellow and in that soccer ball-looking Truvis design, and the Volvik S3 and S4 in a veritable rainbow.
Direct-to-consumer balls such as Snell and Vice also have Tour-level options in colors, so it’s clear low-handicappers with a little flair do, in fact, have options. If you're a Tour B X or XS player, however, your only color option was a different brand, until today.
And for what it’s worth, Bridgestone’s Tour B RX has been available in yellow since its launch last summer. Bridgestone, however, doesn’t classify the Tour B RX as “Tour-level,” despite the Tour B moniker. Bridgestone’s e6 balls, along with the Extra Soft and Lady balls are also offered in color.
I Am Curious Yellow
Bridgestone’s equipment market share is basically nothing, so a test-market, online-only, limited release of a driving iron makes sense. But Bridgestone is #3 in ball market share, so a test-market, online-only, limited release of its bread and butter, albeit in yellow, is curious, to say the least.
Earlier this year Bridgestone announced it had a record-breaking year in golf ball sales volume in 2017, which was quickly followed by rumors of some bottom-line red ink. Bridgestone offered deals and specials on its B330 series last year and replaced it with the new Tour B series last summer, which was a bit earlier than expected. And perhaps to capitalize on Tiger’s resurgent play, you’re now seeing specials on the Tour B.
Bridgestone is getting aggressive, and the new Tiger ads, while clever, put a big old bullseye squarely on Titleist’s back. The #BallWar, it would seem, has another combatant.
But with all that aggression, we are seeing mixed signals coming out of Covington. To wit, Bridgestone’s CEO, along with Tiger, are vocal proponents of distance problems and rolling back the ball – at least for Tour players – and yet we get Tiger’s You’re Back There commercial. And despite aggressive deals and marketing campaign, it’s curious to see Bridgestone tippy-toe its way to market with the yellow Tour B X and XS.
Also, Bridgestone - which invented the concept of ball-fitting - is scaling back its in-person ball fitting program. You can still do an in-person fitting at key retailers, but Bridgestone no longer has its own team providing the in-person ball fitting experience. Instead, Bridgestone is directing golfers to its ball-fitting app, called B-Fit.
As we said with Bridgestone’s driving iron launch, whatever’s going on, it certainly isn’t business as usual.
The Tour B X and XS balls in yellow are $44.99 per dozen and are available only on Bridgestone’s website.