Ford Division is farther along than most manufacturers in its effort to deliver a cohesive brand advertising message, both nationally and locally.
J. Walter Thompson, Ford's advertising agency, represents 48 of the 67 Ford dealer groups.
Ford's system is three-tiered: national advertising, dealer association advertising and individual dealer advertising.
'The theory is that it's Ford's job to create the image at the Tier 1 level - tell why it's such a fabulous product,' Bob McClowry, J. Walter Thompson senior partner and coordinator of the agency's dealer groups, told me during a recent interview.
Dealer group ads, he said, tell consumers why they can afford the product and give them reasons to buy it now. And on the third level, the dealer's message is, 'Buy it from me.'
Since JWT handles both national and most of Ford's dealer group advertising, it is easier to ensure brand consistency.
The approach sounds smooth, cohesive, even seamless. Now other manufacturers, BMW and General Motors among them, are reducing the number of advertising agencies serving their dealer groups in order to establish matching brand ads locally and nationally. It is easier to get fewer agencies marching in the same direction.
Dealers have been doing a lot of teeth-grinding over the GM move, but the manufacturer insists that the change also will reduce administrative costs and allow GM to spend more on local advertising.
As far as dealers are concerned, the brand message is fine. But they fear losing control over which products are pushed in local ads.
Although there is credence in both views, the manufacturers have the right idea.
The reason for the shift is simple - the crowded market.
According to the Automotive News Market Data Book, 928 models of cars and light trucks are on sale in the United Sates today.
When Ford's Explorer went on sale in 1990, McClowry said it had one competitor: the Jeep Cherokee. The Explorer now battles 22 compact sport-utilities.
The manufacturers realize that their advertising must be consistent, efficient and sharp to cut through the scores of products in the market and get their messages across.
They must identify segment buyers. They must use efficient (read cost-effective) advertising and marketing campaigns at the national, regional and local levels. And then they must deliver the message to the target with rifle-shot accuracy.
Frank S. Washington welcomes comments: He can be reached at (313) 446-0374 or at: [email protected]