Farley retools Flex marketing strategy

Ford claims the Flex is cool — suitable for trendsetters and families

The 2009 Ford Flex goes on sale in June.
DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. will market its new seven-passenger crossover without focusing on one of its biggest potential customer categories: families.

The 2009 Ford Flex will go on sale in June, said Kate Pearce, Flex marketing manager. But don't expect kids and dogs to show up in the advertising, even though the Flex is roomy enough to haul around the paraphernalia of modern-day families.

Instead, Ford will try to position the Flex as a trendsetting vehicle for people wanting a stylish ride. The automaker will reach out to urban and suburban consumers alike, even those without children, Pearce said.

"There's much more to this vehicle when you look at it rather than just narrowly defining it as a family crossover," she said. "It is the style that draws people to this vehicle. Good or bad, it evokes an emotion."

The marketing strategy is a departure from the positioning that Ford initially developed for the Flex. The agent of change? Ford's new marketing chief, Jim Farley.

Farley at work

When Farley arrived at Ford last fall, he saw the potential to pitch Flex as a cool vehicle suitable for both trendsetters and families, Pearce said.

The Flex team already had been exploring ways to hype the bold look, but Farley's guidance turned the positioning around. Ford marketers decided not to limit the Flex's potential by painting it so visibly with the family brush.

"So it's caused us to second-guess and take a second look and kind of widen it up and say, 'You know what, you don't have to have a family to love the car,' " Pearce said.

Ford expects the Flex to sell well on the West and East coasts, as well as in some major metro areas in the middle of the country. Flex pricing will start at $28,995, including shipping, and will approach the mid-$40,000 range. Ford expects natural customer traffic to come from people who have been driving mid- and full-sized SUVs.

Ford marketers don't worry that the Flex is priced too high because many consumers switching from SUVs to crossovers are actually coming down in price, Pearce said.

Minivan stigma

The Flex marketing strategy is also part of an effort to escape the perceived minivan stigma. Ford dropped sliding rear doors that initially had been planned for the Flex. Using cheaper conventional rear doors freed up money to improve the interior.

That interior, in addition to the Flex's exterior looks, will be showcased in the advertising campaign, Pearce said. Families will find the car even without overt target marketing, she said.

Themes for the commercials aren't final, but they will come back to potential consumers' desire to express a personal sense of style.

Said Pearce: "You can't not want to be noticed when you drive down the road in a two-tone vehicle with really cool grooves down the side." 

You can reach Amy Wilson at awilson@crain.com

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