A new venture between Ford Motor Co. and an Internet company would not ordinarily provoke a second look. After all, Ford has aggressively expanded its Web presence, establishing co-branded sites with Oracle Corp., Microsoft's CarPoint.com, Priceline.com and others.
But Ford's recent involvement with teen Web site bolt.com is different. The Internet site features profanity-laced discussions about such teen topics as sex, dating and whether teen singer Britney Spears had her breasts surgically enlarged.
Ford has invested in Bolt Media Inc. The two will launch cars.bolt.com, an offshoot of bolt.com. The site's topic will shift to autos, but the audience will be the same, and the two Web sites will be linked.
A partnership between Ford and a site catering to unsupervised and frank teen discussions may have raised some eyebrows in Dearborn. But the e-enabled managers on Ford's roster saw the benefits.
Ford can ill afford to ignore today's teens because this group represents the automaker's bread and butter of tomorrow.
John Kwant, Ford's director of new business development, and Jamie Allison, an e-marketing manager, helped craft Ford's partnership with bolt.com.
'When you go where people spend their time online, they're going to be talking about what they want to talk about. We recognize that,' said Kwant. 'But we're going to reach teens at a site where they are comfortable talking with each other.'
If teens are in a place where they feel comfortable, they're more likely to share their thoughts, which is the real gold in the deal.
The Web site plans pop quizzes, surveys and chat rooms designed to encourage teens to sound off.
Ford plans to host cyber chats with company engineers, to sponsor Bolt's town-meeting tour during the summer, and to ask teens to design their fantasy cars and submit them for prizes.
'It's a way to get clear, unfiltered market information,' Ford's Allison said.
To borrow Ford's new tag line, no boundaries indeed.Michael Woodyard can be reached at [email protected]
com or at (313) 446-0373.