NEW YORK -- Ford marketing boss Jim Farley says the economic downturn in recent years created new opportunities for digital marketing.
"Everything has to work in this economy," Farley said here Wednesday at Advertising Age’s Digital Conference. "If the economy hadn't dropped the way it did, we would have been on auto pilot and not experimented the way we did. Our production quality online is better than our broadcast."
Advertising Age is an affiliate of Automotive News. That experimentation is led by what Farley calls the democratization of marketing.
"It's the most important transition we are making," said Ford Motor Co.’s group vice president of global marketing. Ford has been a big advocate of turning the brand over to consumers, and not just in the digital space. The automaker's TV spots featuring real Ford owners have won positive reviews .
"I can tell a story in 15 seconds now on TV, but I want customers to tell our story," Farley said. "That's what digital has shown us: how to earn credibility among consumers."
Farley said the company is also rethinking the way it approaches media planning.
"If you look at a normal traditional media spend, it involves using traditional media when our cars are... arriving at dealerships," he said. "Then we spend big on traditional broadcast media to get frequency."
Farley said the more involved he got in making upfront media buys the less "right" it felt.
Farley, who left Toyota in 2007 to join Ford, said media owners and clients have to get used to spending a lot more money in post-launch efforts with new partners.
"Yes, we still need traditional media partners and integration will become more and more important," Farley said. "But then post-launch we can't just go away. We have to allocate [social and digital] resources because these different resources change the content and the dialogue of the product after the launch. It's much more manageable, and it impacts how we build the product."
Farley said if an agency wants to partner with Ford, it needs to think differently because the car maker launches products differently.
"We're about the person, not the Web site or channel,” he said.
Executing the brand
Ford also is focusing on "executing" the brand globally. Farley said Ford sold all of its other brands including Volvo so that the company and consumers would focus solely on Ford-branded products. He noted that Ford has been losing market share for 14 years straight in the U.S. but managed to gain some back in the last 24 months.
"We shrank the company to make it grow, and to do that we transitioned our marketing, especially in the digital space," he said.
"One out of every four dollars we spend is on digital, but we totally transformed how that money is being spent. We spend it mid-funnel. We're transitioning most of our digital spend to convincing consumers they should put Ford on their shopping lists.
“And the evidence shows we have made some great strides, and we are starting to see consumer sentiment change. We have a long way to go, but the quality sentiment is changing."