Old: watching TV while eating a TV dinner.
New: watching TV while surfing the Web.
Newer: watching TV commercials created by Web-surfing viewers who dictate what is seen on the screen.
This month, Ford Division will ride the latest wave of technology by allowing viewers to help create live TV commercials for the Ford Focus. Ford is joining a rush of marketers trying to harness the combined potential of TV and online media.
TV viewers will log on to www.focus247.com and vote for the actors and story lines they prefer to see in Focus commercials that air on a range of ABC shows. Within 15 minutes, the commercials, as dictated by viewers, will appear on TV. Viewers also will vote for the preferred Focus model that appears in the commercials and submit names for various items in the commercials, such as pets and nightspots.
Ford is trying to reach Focus' target audience of young buyers where they live: online.
'We want to get people to the Web site, which is where this group likes to get its product information,' said Bruce Rooke, executive creative director at J. Walter Thompson, the agency that is producing the ads.
MORE CONSUMER INFO
Ford also will add to its storehouse of consumer data. Participants must register at the Focus Web site. Consumers earn sweepstake bonus points by participating in the ads or by answering pop-up questions that require further cruising through the site. Ford offers 500 prizes worth $100,000 in a partnership with Sony Electronics.
Through the end of last year, 24.4 percent of Focus buyers were under age 25, the highest percentage in the Focus market class, Ford said.
'This is not just about trying to be as quirky as possible. We are trying to create experiences that are relevant to the consumers we are trying to reach,' said Julie Roehm, Focus brand manager.
The interactive ad campaign is one of a continuing series of 'episodic' marketing efforts planned by Focus marketers, said Jan Klug, Ford Division marketing communications manager.
For example, Ford plans to update the Focus by launching customized limited-edition models every few months.
The new ads also are a change from the live ads that Ford used to launch the Focus last fall. Those spots, featuring TBS Superstation personality Annabelle Gurwitch, fell flat in execution. But marketers did get a taste of the interactive potential of TV and the Web. In a test last November, viewers were asked to choose the outfit Gurwitch would wear in one commercial.
'Within 15 to 20 minutes, we had 15,000 hits just on the East Coast, without any promotion,' Rooke said.
JACK HATES MUSTARD
Five actresses and actors will be featured in the new spots. Viewers will choose three of the five to star in the first spot, which airs March 8. For example, participants logging onto the Focus Web site meet Jack, a self-described Aries who hates traffic and mustard and whose first pet was named Johnny Rabbit.
The 30-second spots will air Wednesday, March 8; March 15, March 23 and April 5. Targeted shows are: 'Two Girls and a Guy,' 'The Norm Show,' 'The Drew Carey Show,' '20/20,' 'Who's Line Is It Anyway?' and 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.'
Print ads supporting the campaign will appear in newspapers, alternative weeklies and magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone. Internet banners will run on a variety of entertainment and youth-oriented Web sites.