Automotive News reporter Bradford Wernle took part in Ford's "Random Acts of Fusion" charitable event last night -- and did his best sarcastic Simon Cowell imitation.
BRADFORD WERNLE

Ford mixes reality TV, charity to make new Fusion a star

Bradford Wernle covers Ford for Automotive News.
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DETROIT -- Allow me to make a confession: I have never watched "American Idol" before. And until Ford rolled out its "Random Acts of Fusion" social media campaign for the 2013 Fusion, I could not have picked Ryan Seacrest out in a police lineup.

So it was with considerable apprehension that I allowed myself to be talked into sitting in front of a monitor at the Village Ford dealership in Dearborn last night and asked to judge the musical talent of an "American Idol" aspirant. If I understand the rules correctly, I could even win a trip to the studio where they film the show if my response was deemed clever enough.

Suddenly, Seacrest, the "American Idol" host, appeared on the screen bidding me to click the mouse and get ready to talk into the camera. My chance to do my best sarcastic Simon Cowell imitation had arrived.

I clicked and the next thing I know, some guy appeared, a really big, red-faced guy. I couldn't avert my eyes from his outfit, which looked like it had been cobbled together from Cabela's, the Salvation Army, the heavy metal section of a Halloween costume shop and a Harley Davidson distressed merchandise outlet.

Before I could fully absorb his breathtakingly incongruous getup, he began singing, or at least an approximation of singing. Nasal caterwauling would be more like it. There was a tune in there somewhere, but he couldn't seem to locate it. He threw in the word "rock" a few times, so I was able to determine I was listening to a rock 'n roll song.

I got myself into this predicament because I stopped by Village Ford to witness the last night of Ford's big Random Acts of Fusion pre-launch campaign. About 2,100 Ford dealers participated nationally Thursday evening. Roughly 50,000 customers visited dealerships.

Many of them, unlike me, were real "American Idol" fans hoping to win a VIP, behind-the-scenes trip to the show or a new Fusion. Numbers are still preliminary, but Ford says the event raised $500,000 for various charities.

With Random Acts of Fusion, Ford utilized the enormous celebrity pull of Seacrest and his co-hosts, via their drawing power on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, to get consumers more engaged with the Fusion.

"It's a great way to connect with customers who normally wouldn't connect with the brand," said David Mondragon, general marketing manager for Ford and Lincoln, who dropped by Village Ford to see how the event was going.

These social-media events will play a larger and larger role in Ford's future marketing, he said. Ford says Random Acts of Fusion has generated about 1 billion digital "impressions" since it launched in early fall.

"We already spend less on traditional media and we spend a higher percent of our marketing dollars today on digital marketing than we did yesterday and that will continue going forward," said Mondragon.

It was Mondragon, an affable guy and great salesman in the bargain, who convinced me, against my better judgment, to get in front of that camera and judge that guy's performance.

I don't know how the fellow will fare or whether he'll be outrageous enough to earn an appearance on the big screen, but I'll say one thing: he wasn't holding anything back, which is what the spirit of rock n' roll is all about anyway.

When it came my turn to pass judgment on his performance, I said he delivered an exuberant rendition, but that his enthusiasm perhaps exceeded his musical ability….just slightly. I was trying to be charitable. After all, I had to remember my judging was also being evaluated. Just maybe those invisible jurists found my navy sport coat and powder blue shirt pretty darn geeky, too.

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

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