LAS VEGAS — Ford Motor Co. is trying to create a 750,000-strong army of advocates to get consumers to reconsider its vehicles.
That's the number of employees, retirees, dealers and dealership employees that Ford is charging with spreading the word about the automaker's quality gains and new products. That person-to-person outreach is the backbone of Ford's multimillion-dollar "Drive One" campaign, which started this month.
The automaker started early this month by briefing employees and retirees on the plan. Last week, Ford told 3,500 dealers about the new campaign in sessions in Las Vegas.
For the first time ever at a dealer show, Ford brought in more than 60 company engineers to share specifics of the automaker's technological and product accomplishments with the people who are trying to sell vehicles. Most of the engineers had never met a dealer before in their career, said Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president of marketing and communications.
Farley offered this example of how the new approach is forging connections that can be used in the sales field:
An engineer demonstrating Ford's soybean-based seat foam got more than 100 requests for samples from dealers. Many are in farming communities but never knew that Ford was using material grown by their potential customers. Now that they know, the dealers can market that connection more directly to local consumers.
Ford employees are appearing in advertisements and Internet videos. The campaign is focused on telling people about Ford's accomplishments in four areas: quality, safety, technology and the environment.
Ford surveyed more than 700 dealers as it developed the campaign. When including regional and local advertising by dealers, Ford says it spends $1.5 billion annually on marketing in the United States. The company isn't disclosing the specific budget for the "Drive One" campaign.
The biggest difference at this dealer meeting is that Ford executives really listened to what dealers had to say, said Jeff Robberson of Robberson Ford-Lincoln-Mercury in Bend, Ore.
"It's incredibly frustrating to be a Ford dealer and know we have the best showroom we've had and yet we don't have people coming in to consider us," Robberson said. "The need for this campaign was huge."