Tom Kendall, a Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealer in Marble Falls, Texas, grew irate at TV news reports about the purported failings of the U.S. auto industry. He resolved to set the record straight.
So in late January, Kendall and his partner and father-in-law, Bob Sewell, spent $8,500 to run a four-page advertising insert in several local newspapers.
Instead of touting prices, rebates and financing at his dealership, Johnson-Sewell Ford-Lincoln-Mercury, Kendall talked about Ford Motor Co.'s achievements in quality and technology. The ad noted that Ford wasn't taking federal bailout money, and praised Ford CEO Alan Mulally and marketing chief Jim Farley.
"We were just fed up with all the negative talk about Ford," Kendall told Automotive News. "It was everywhere I went. People don't have the facts. We just decided enough is enough."
The ad section, which went to 40,000 households, listed tributes to Ford quality by such third parties as J.D. Power and Associates, Consumer Reports magazine and Edmunds.com. It offered consumer accolades, financial data and vehicle photos.
Kendall said the ad has paid off.
"We've gotten hundreds of e-mails and calls," he said. "People say, 'I really like what you said. I didn't know all that about Ford. I'm going to shop there next time.' We're going to do more of it."
Before the insert ran, Kendall told Ford dealer representatives of his plans and asked for help with fact checking. The representatives reported the effort to Ford headquarters in suburban Detroit. Company executives put out the word that they would approve co-op ad support for other dealers who ran similar ads.
Tony Bates, owner of Burchett Ford-Lincoln-Mercury in Lebanon, Tenn., got a do-it-yourself advertising kit from Ford. It included three sample ads he could tailor to his market.
As of early March, a Ford spokesman said, dealers had downloaded the sample ads more than 2,000 times.
Bates adapted an ad written by a Ford dealer in Florida and ran it on March 1 in The Tennessean, 30 miles away in Nashville. The full-page ad was headlined: "Americans Deserve the Truth."
Bates' ad took on Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who recommended bankruptcy for the Detroit 3, calling the lawmaker a "self-serving hypocrite."
Negative consumer perceptions, Bates noted, are hitting close to home.
"I have a 15-year-old son studying economics in high school," Bates said. "He came home the other day asking me about the collapse of the American auto industry. He looked at me and said, 'Are we going to be OK?'"