Ford's blue oval goes dark and draws some coveted coastal eyeballs

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Ford may be one of the auto industry’s oldest brands, but Ford Motor Co.’s global marketing chief calls it a “challenger brand in the U.S.” these days.

That’s why, in Jim Farley’s view, Ford must use unconventional tactics to get noticed, particularly by consumers in U.S. coastal areas, who have overwhelmingly preferred import brands for decades.

To grab the attention of potential new customers, Ford and its Team Detroit agency partner ran a couple of advertising spots during the week of April 30 in which the famous blue oval and all references to Ford were deliberately obscured.

Ford said today that the commercials, part of its “Go Further” ad campaign, topped Advertising Age’s Viral Video Report for the week of April 30 with nearly 3 million views. The report ranks social-media brand advertising campaigns based on the number of views. Advertising Age is a sister publication of Automotive News.

"We're aiming these ads directly at the skeptics," Farley said in a Ford blog. "These consumers have blinders up when they see a Ford logo, so we have to do something that's disruptive and unexpected from a car company if we expect to get noticed by them."

The spots directed customers to a Web site, GoFurther.com. Ford said 40 percent of the customers who clicked on GoFurther.com clicked on through to the Ford.com Web site.

California accounted for the most traffic with 9 percent, followed by New York, Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania, all states Ford says it needs to reach.

Much to Ford’s surprise, customers clicked on the C-Max Hybrid more than any vehicle except the Fusion.

“The C-Max is an all-new nameplate we don’t even sell in the U.S.,” Farley told reporters at a briefing today. “I wouldn’t have thought we’d get tens of thousands of people.”

The C-Max goes on sale in the United States in the second half of the year in two versions: the C-Max Hybrid, a conventional gasoline-electric hybrid, and the C-Max Energi, a plug-in hybrid.

Before the C-Max arrives, Ford will be launching the redesigned 2013 Escape crossover this spring and the redesigned 2013 Fusion sedan, vehicles Ford hopes will play well to those coastal customers. After the F-series pickup, the Escape and Fusion were Ford’s next two best sellers in 2011.

Says Matt VanDyke, head of Ford marketing communications: “We have to leverage these fabulous new products in these environments.”

After a week of the unbranded commercials, Ford started a new set featuring the brand and the blue oval logo.

Go Further is on its way to becoming Ford’s advertising slogan globally, replacing two earlier campaigns: “Drive One” and “Feel the Difference.”

It’s all part of Ford’s drive to coordinate its messages in concert with the launch of a new generation of global products developed under the company’s One Ford product development system.

Farley says the unbranded commercials were a chance to get coastal customers to look at the Escape, Fusion and other new cars such as the Focus ST performance hatchback and the C-Max.

This is Ford’s chance to “say to customers who are the most skeptical, the ones whose preconceived notions of the brand were the most hardened, we asked them to reconsider for a week,” Farley said.

As Farley knows very well, it’s one thing for a customer to click on a Web site to look at some vehicles, and quite another to write a check for a new Escape or Fusion.

“It really does come down,” Farley said, “to the execution of these two launches.”

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@crain.com.

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